Saturday, August 24, 2013

Large-sample evidence on the difficulty of women "having it all"

In this paper, I report on measures of life satisfaction and emotional well-being (experienced utility) across groups of college-educated women based on whether they have a career, a family, both, or neither. The biggest premium to life satisfaction is associated with having a family; while there is also a life satisfaction premium associated with having a career, women do not seem to be able to “double up” on these premiums. A qualitatively similar picture emerges from my analysis of the emotional well-being data. Among college-educated women with family, those with a career spent a larger share of their day unhappy, sad, stressed and tired compared to those that are staying at home.

I use two main sources of data. To document overall evaluation of life, I use the General Social Surveys (GSS), 1972 to 2010. I use answers to the question “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days - would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?” I construct a dummy variable that equals 1 if the respond answers “very happy,” 0 otherwise. To document emotional well-being, I use the 2010 Well-Being module of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS WB). Respondents who completed a 24-hour ATUS diary were administered the well-being module. Three activities from the diary were randomly selected and six affect questions related to quality of life were asked about each activity. For each selected episode, respondents were asked to rate, using a scale from 0 to 6 (where a 0 means the feeling was not experienced at all and a 6 means the feeling was very strong), whether they felt: 1) happy, 2) tired, 3) stressed, 4) sad, 5) pain and 6) meaning. Following Krueger and Kahneman (2006), I construct an index which helps classify each particular episode into pleasant or unpleasant (U-index). ...

A given woman in a given year and age group is defined to have a “career” if her annual (GSS) or weekly (ATUS WB) earnings are above the 25th percentile in the relevant year and age group. Depending on the specification, I assign as having a “family” those women that are currently married, or are currently married with children. ...

Consistent with expectation, the least happy group are those college-educated women that have neither career nor family: only 29 percent of these women report being very happy. The happiest group is women with family but no career: 47 percent of them report being very happy. Thirty-four percent of women with a career but no family report being very happy. While both career and family are individually associated with higher life satisfaction, it does not appear that these premiums are additive: only 43 percent of the women that “have it all” report being very happy.

This evidence should only be viewed as correlational because of the many dimensions of unobserved heterogeneity that I cannot address given the constraints imposed by the data and research design.
--Marianne Bertrand, American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, on evidence that working moms really do have tougher lives