Susan Patton has been castigated by feminists and women’s groups for encouraging young women to prioritise their personal lives over work. In her book Marry Smart she worries that young women leave it too late to find a good husband and have children. She argues that by the time women have established their career and want a family they are in their mid-thirties. At this age they have little reproductive life left and eligable men of their age will prefer younger women. As a high-level career counsellor, she says, she has listened as successful and unmarried women in their mid to late thirties lament that their lives are not fulfilling. “They’re publishers, they’re editor-in-chiefs, they’re heads of marketing, they’re heads of digital, and they’re doing incredibly well. They’re earning a quarter of a million, half a million dollars a year. They have unlimited travel and entertainment budgets, they have salon budgets and wardrobe budgets, they’re on every A-list in town, but they call me and they say: “I can’t take it any more.””
She tells them: “It must be very hard at the end of a long day at work to go home to an empty apartment. That’s what’s making you crazy. That’s what’s making you unfulfilled.”
This anecodal evidence supports recent research which quantifies the paradox of declining female happiness. This decline is both absolute and relative to men’s happiness, which hasn’t changed in 40 years.
Why are women less happy then they were?
Politics apart and whether we like it or not, what Susan Patton is describing makes perfect evolutionary sense.
There is an (incorrect) assumption that the behaviour and insecurities of women is received solely via “socialisation”, i.e. an interaction with their environment. For example a female preoccupation with wanting children is “caused” by being exposed to idyllic representations of motherhood. This incorrect assumption is based on flawed and discredited social “science” research that fails to correct for genetics.
1. Evolution is not about survival of the species (e.g. humans) it is about survival of the genes. We are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure genes get moved forward in time. We die. They don’t. Any behaviour conferred by the genes on a species, which increases the likelihood of having more offspring, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation.
2. Evolution takes a long time. One tick of the evolutionary clock takes about 250,000 years. i.e. we are virtually identical to our ancestors from 50,000 years ago.
Our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.
Human females have a pathetic ability to reproduce, having no more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will generally only produce offspring one at a time. Human children are unusually vulnerable in infancy and take many years to reach maturity. Women therefore engage in a long, energy sapping and life threatening investment in their children to ensure these (few) offspring reach childbearing age. She must choose her mate with great care to ensure her offspring receive beneficial genes from the father, which in turn maximises the chance of her own genes prospering in the next generation. It also means she must carefully and selflessly look after the few offspring she manages to produce. She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.
In a contraceptive free evolutionary past invoking a strong desire to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex was enough for our genes to get reproduced. Once a woman has the child another set of basic nurturing instincts will kick in to ensure that she nurtures and protects her young. As a “belt and braces” insurance to ensure genes are reproduced it seems there is the additional phenomenon of childless women hearing “the ticking clock” when they are close to end of their fertile years. This is characterised by a desperate, emotional longing to have children. This is well documented and has the obvious evolutionary benefit of motivating a woman to try for a last chance pregnancy. For her genes it is the “last throw of the dice” in order to reproduce themselves.
As well as having sex and nurturing our young, our genes also want us to eat, drink and avoid being too cold or too hot. The motivation is often to make us physically uncomfortable so that we are motivated to rectify the situation. Being hungry, thirsty or cold is painful and unpleasant. We seek to stop or prevent this unpleasantness. We are also given a reward for solving these basic needs – a carrot and stick process has evolved. The satisfaction of a good meal, the feeling of one’s thirst being slaked, the enjoyment of feeling the warmth of a fire penetrate our cold body, the enjoyment and warm afterglow of sex.
Love sickness, anxiety and the desperate, emotional longing for a child are the mental equivalent of pain. These emotional pains motivate us to do something to alleviate the discomfort.
It makes sense that many women without children will feel unfulfilled and unhappy. It is nature’s way of motivating women to reproduce before it is too late.
Human males produce 250,000 sperm every second and their number of offspring is limited only by their opportunity to impregnate willing (or unwilling) females. Two strategies would work to increase the number of their genes in the next generation. 1. Look after their offspring, nurture them and ensure they reach child bearing age (i.e. copy the only strategy available to women). 2. Spread their sperm as far and wide as possible, have thousands of offspring and hope that some reach childbearing age. A third alternative is the best. Do both. Men invest almost nothing in child rearing so it makes sense for them to take huge risks to have the opportunity to reproduce.
Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival. To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).
Men are programmed to advertise their success and achievements in order to attract a high social status mate. Men will choose young, healthy, fertile (read attractive) women because their chosen mate primarily needs to be fit to survive 9 months of pregnancy and the years of childcare that follows. Men have evolved to visually select a mate on this basis. Women have evolved for millions of years with this pressure. Women are therefore programmed to try to look young and attractive in order to find a suitable mate. Men remain fertile for their whole life, so the urge to reproduce is not urgent.
Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.
I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour, and nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women. Women should have the equality and opportunity to spend their life as they wish. But please remember evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.
So it is demonstrably untrue that a human being is born as a malleable lump of clay that can be manipulated and moulded by society into anything that we want. i.e. social policy cannot undo 3,500,000,000 years of evolution nor liberate people from their own personal inadequacies and insecurities through legislation and indoctrination.
The problem with feminism (if there is one) is that it has a strong vision of how the world ought to be. Inconvenient truths are met with denial followed by shrill personal attacks and screams of “sexism”. Like all idealists (including socialists) there is little debate about how the world actually is and little effort to find pragmatic solutions and compromises. This can lead to very poor and expensive decision-making, as many of the real-world facts are not considered before choosing a chain of action.
For the vast majority human happiness is based on security, familiarity, predictability and conformity. i.e. understanding your place in the world and knowing how to navigate it. Fundamentally most people don’t like change. Change management is an enormous industry in the world of work for this reason. Trade unions desperately try to stop the world of their members changing because it is considered harmful and stressful.
Small groups of people with a “cause” are highly motivated to change the world to suit their own agenda. They have energy and intelligence to seize power through the media and government and then change the world to suit their own personal grievances. But they are often a minority and the changes they make seem to increase the anxiety of the masses.
So since the advent of feminism a denial of human nature has caused women in general to become less happy despite having incalculably more freedoms. The happiness of the masses is sacrificed in the pursuit of happiness for the vocal minorities.
The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (academic reference)