Girl Guides are becoming more unhappy - this isn't a surprise

We’ve a survey telling us that Girl Guides are becoming more unhappy as time passes. That is, the newer generations are more unhappy than the older age cohorts were. This is not a surprise, at least some of this will come from the economic and social emancipation of women.

The survey:

There has been a sharp decline in happiness among girls and young women in the UK in the last decade, with the majority of them blaming exams and social media for causing stress, a major survey has found.

Just one in four (25%) girls and young women between the ages of seven and 21 described themselves as “very happy” in the latest girls’ attitudes survey for the Girlguiding organisation – down from 41% in 2009.

This is not an isolated finding, Stevenson and Wolfers have found the same to be true - to some extent - right across the rich world.

The question is, well, why? The answer being that old economists’ favourite, opportunity costs. It has always, for as long as we’ve been measuring such at least, true that men report being unhappy at higher rates than women. The decline in female happiness is really bringing their rate down to that of their male contemporaries. So, why?

It’s hardly controversial that men historically had more life choices than women, that this inequality is either well on the way to being or entirely wiped out now. This should make women unhappier.

Yes, unhappier. For the cost of anything is what is given up to gain that thing. The more choices one has the more is given up by choosing any one mode or method of life. As women’s choices have expanded their levels of reported happiness have declined to those of the men who have always had such a palette of shades to life.

No, this doesn’t mean that any increase in unhappiness is from this cause. But it does mean that we’ve got to be careful about the attribution of any change in these levels of happiness. Strange but true, some of it will be coming from the way the world is getting better.