A recent UK Department for Education study into the mental wellbeing of 30,000 teenagers found that girls were more than twice as likely as boys to suffer symptoms of mental ill health. The proportion of girls with anxiety or depression has risen by 10 per cent in a decade.
The study was one of the largest of its kind and involved in-depth interviews with thousands of teenagers aged 14 or 15. It was based on a similar study carried out in 2005, allowing researchers to compare trends over time.
37% of teenage girls had three or more symptoms of psychological distress, such as feeling unhappy, worthless, and unable to concentrate, compared with 15 per cent of boys. Instances of depression and anxiety in boys had fallen since 2005, but risen by about 10 per cent in girls.
Researchers said that some of the increase could be attributed to “pushy parents” and “peer pressure” but these factors were not wholly responsible. Also, social media was blamed for putting pressure on girls to lose weight, look good, be popular and achieve academic success.
This decline in female happiness started in the 1970s and was noted in 2009 in a major academic study (The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness):
“By many measures the progress of women over recent decades has been extraordinary. Given these shifts of rights and bargaining power from men to women over the past 35 years, holding all else equal, we might expect to see a concurrent shift in happiness toward women and away from men. Yet ….measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.”
It seems that this decline in happiness of young women has continued since 2009 and is now resulting in depression.
As this steady decline in happiness has been noted in women since the 1970s we cannot blame social media, modern technology or recent changes in parenting, although they may be contributory factors. Perhaps we should look at more fundamental changes in the structure of our society since the 1970s instead?
We must remember that all living things are effectively transient life support machines for our genes. A disposable container that passes our genes into future generations. Genes control the physical characteristics and inherent behaviours in all living things. There is overwhelming evidence that genes control human intelligence, personality and behaviour.
Evolution has occurred at a glacial pace over the last 3,500,000,000 years. Each tick of the evolutionary clock is about 250,000 years, so we are very similar to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.
Women have a much lower reproductive capacity than men and must carefully nurture the few children they can have to get their genes into future generations. The evolutionary pressures on men are different.
Over the last 3,500,000,000 years of evolution our genes have finely tuned their life support machines to act in their best interest. When they need food they make us hungry, when they need water they make us thirsty. When they need to reproduce they make us impassioned. When they need to maintain copies of themselves in future generations they make us altruistic and nurturing for our children and grandchildren.
We are rewarded psychologically for good behaviour. The satisfaction of a good meal, the pleasure of slaking a fierce thirst, the warm afterglow of sex. The radiance of a young woman with a new baby. The pleasure a mother gets seeing her children happy, fed, clean and healthy. All are incentives to help our genes survive.
We are also punished psychologically for bad behaviour. The misery of following a life-course or career for which we are not suited or does not increase our reproductive capability. The unbearable guilt of perceived poor parenting. The desperation of a childless woman towards the end of her fertile years. All are disincentives to act against the interests of our genes.
In the modern, gender neutral, politically correct world we sometime forget what makes us happy. And very often it is the simple things in life. The things the last 3,500,000,000 years has evolved us to do.
Perhaps in order to feel happy and fulfilled we should play the game. We only get one shot at life. Perhaps we should listen more to our bodies and less to politically correct ideology?
So perhaps this unhappiness is caused by women trying to be something for which they had not evolved? Perhaps the creep of feminism since the 1970s is a contributory factor? Perhaps women are not getting the necessary psychological rewards in a modern, gender neutral, politically correct world? Perhaps the “sexist” 1960s philosophy was right. Many women just want to get married and have babies.
Genetics works on a population level and cannot be used to make predictions about individuals. However, the decline in female happiness since the 1970s occurs on a population level.
Anybody seriously interested in the happiness of women must consider all possibilities.
The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (academic reference)
Feminism, childlessness and female unhappiness – an evolutionary explanation
Men and Women Evolved with Conflicting Interests – why we don’t always get along