Slate’s Sharon Lerner writes about “The Real Reason American Women Are So Unhappy” (go read the whole piece):
While women in rich countries around the world may be becoming generally sadder… American women are still probably the gloomiest. Only 3 percent of people in Japan experience major depression in their lifetime, for instance, compared with about 17 percent of Americans, according to the most recent cross-national comparison of depression rates…. [According to the] online World Database of Happiness… the family-friendly (or at least family-friendlier) nations of Sweden (in eighth place), Denmark (second), Finland (seventh), and Holland (13th) as happier than we are. For what it’s worth, the United States, birthplace of both “happy hour” and “the Happy Meal,” ranked only 31st in overall happiness….
So why are American women so particularly blue? For women, two of the most potentially life- (and mood-) altering factors are family size and work hours. American women have notable distinctions on both fronts. First, we have more babies than women in most any other developed country. While an American woman still typically has around 2.1 children over her lifetime, in other rich countries, family size has dropped significantly as women have gained access to jobs and education. More than 90 nations throughout Europe and Asia now have fertility rates well below ours. Second, even while we’ve continued to raise sizable families, American women have achieved the very highest rate of full-time employment in the world, with 75 percent of employed women working full-time….
[A] bizarre, punishing disregard for the impact of work stress on mothers of very young children permeates our culture. How else can one explain the U.S. Army’s policy of sending female soldiers back to work full-time just six weeks after giving birth and back into war zones just two-and-a-half months after that? Welfare policy reflects a similar disconnect from the reality of motherhood, with some welfare recipients now guaranteed no leave at all from their work assignments after having babies, which can mean being separated from newborns just days after giving birth. Together, these factors may help explain why, at least in the United States, parenthood now tends to be a downer, with both male and female parents more depressed than their childless peers.
In many ways, the pressures mount as women age and continue to feel the unalleviated pulls of working and parenting. Even though they may start out in the same schools and land in the same jobs, as their careers typically don’t offer the flexibility necessary to care for children, women often have to watch the income gap between themselves and their male counterparts grow—a gap that, given the lack of re-entry points onto career tracks, seems to widen even after children are grown. So, while many women, particularly those who can’t afford to “opt-out,” wind up overwhelmed and exhausted by the combination of full-time careers and motherhood, others wind up nudged out of their professions. Some leave the workforce altogether, but many just wind up in lower-paying, lower-status work that accommodates their schedules. Often neither option is what they wanted, which helps explain the gradual dwindling of women’s happiness.[To the tune of Zero, “These Blues,” from the album 1993-02-06 – Great American Music Hall (I give it 4 stars).]