Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 1539–1555 | Cite as

Gender Differences in Subjective Well-Being and Their Relationships with Gender Equality

  • Gerhard MeisenbergEmail author
  • Michael A. Woodley
Research Paper


Although most surveys of happiness and general life satisfaction find only small differences between men and women, women report slightly higher subjective well-being than men in some countries, and slightly lower subjective well-being in others. The present study investigates the social and cultural conditions that favor higher female relative to male happiness and life satisfaction. Results from more than 90 countries represented in the World Values Survey show that conditions associated with a high level of female relative to male happiness and life satisfaction include a high proportion of Muslims in the country, a low proportion of Catholics, and absence of communist history. Among indicators of gender equality, a low rate of female non-agricultural employment is associated with higher female-versus-male happiness and satisfaction. Differences in the rate of female non-agricultural employment explain part of the effects of communist history and prevailing religion. They may also explain the recent observation of declining female life satisfaction in the United States.


Happiness Life satisfaction Women Gender equality World Values Survey 


  1. Arrosa, M. L. & Gandelman, N. (2013). Happiness decomposition: Female optimism. Working Paper JEL: I31, J16, D03.Google Scholar
  2. Balafoutas, L., & Sutter, M. (2012). Affirmative action policies promote women and do not harm efficiency in the laboratory. Science, 335, 579–582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beaman, L., Duflo, E., Pande, R., & Topalova, P. (2012). Female leadership raises aspirations and educational attainment for girls: A policy experiment in India. Science, 335, 582–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2002). Well-being over time in Britain and the USA. Journal of Public Economics, 88, 1359–1386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blau, F. D. (1998). Trends in the well-being of American women, 1970–1995. Journal of Economic Literature, 36, 112–165.Google Scholar
  6. Booth, A. L., & van Ours, J. C. (2010). Part-time jobs: What women want? IZA Discussion Papers, #4686.Google Scholar
  7. Ceci, S. J., & Williams, W. M. (2011). Understanding current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 108, 3157–3162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cingranelli, D. L., Richards, D. L., & Clay, K. C. (2013). The Cingranelli-Richards Human Rights Dataset;
  9. Croson, R., & Gneezy, U. (2009). Gender differences in preferences. Journal of Economic Literature, 47, 448–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eff, E. A. (2004). Spatial and cultural autocorrelation in international datasets. Department of Economics and Finance Working Paper Series, available at
  11. Ellis, L., & Ratnasingam, M. (2012). Gender, sexual orientation, and occupational interests: Evidence of androgen influences. Mankind Quarterly, 53, 36–80.Google Scholar
  12. Gash, V., Mertens, A., & Gordo, L. R. (2010). Women between part-time and full-time work: The influence of changing hours of work on happiness and life satisfaction. SOEP Papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Research, available at
  13. Herbst, C. M. (2011). ‘Paradoxical’ decline? Another look at the relative reduction in female happiness. Journal of Economic Psychology, 32, 773–788.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heston, A., Summers, R. & Aten, B. (2011). Penn World Table version 4.0. Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices at the University of Pennsylvania 2009, Accessed July 15, 2011 at
  15. Inglehart, R., & Baker, W. E. (2000). Modernization, cultural change, and the persistence of traditional values. American Sociological Review, 65, 19–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Inglehart, R., Basáñez, M., Díez-Medrano, J., Halman, L., & Luijkx, R. (2004). Human beliefs and values. A cross-cultural sourcebook based on the 1999–2002 values surveys. México: Siglo XXI Editores.Google Scholar
  17. Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2005). Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Medicine, 2(8), e124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lynn, R. (1992). Sex differences in competitiveness and the valuation of money in twenty countries. Journal of Social Psychology, 133, 507–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lynn, R., & Vanhanen, T. (2012). Intelligence. A unifying construct for the social sciences. London: Ulster Institute.Google Scholar
  20. Meisenberg, G. (2004). Talent, character, and the dimensions of national culture. Mankind Quarterly, 45, 123–168.Google Scholar
  21. Meisenberg, G., & Williams, A. (2008). Are acquiescent and extreme response styles related to low intelligence and education? Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 1539–1550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mencarini, L. M., & Sironi, M. (2012). Happiness, housework and gender inequality in Europe. European Sociological Review, 28, 203–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. OECD. (2009). Gender, Institutions and Development Database;
  24. Pakaluk, C. & Burke, J. A. (2010). The new battle of the sexes: understanding the reversal of the happiness gender gap. Dept. of Economics, Ave Maria University Working Papers 1004, retrieved 25 Jan. 2014 from
  25. Perneger, T. (1998). What’s wrong with Bonferroni adjustments. British Medical Journal, 316, 1236–1238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pezzini, S. (2005). The effect of women’s rights on women’s welfare: Evidence from a natural experiment. Economic Journal, 115, C208–C227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ross, G. A. (2011). The impact of church attendance on the decline in female happiness in the United States. Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 7(1).Google Scholar
  28. Sapienza, P., Zingales, L., & Maestripieri, D. (2009). Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 106, 15268–15273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Spiro, M. (1979). Gender and culture: Kibbutz women revisited. Durham (NC): Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2009). The paradox of declining female happiness. American Economic Journal, Economic Policy, 1(2), 190–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tesch-Römer, C., Motel-Klingebiel, A., & Tomasik, M. J. (2008). Gender differences in subjective well-being: Comparing societies with respect to gender equality. Social Indicators Research, 85, 329–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Tiger, L., & Shepher, J. (1975). Women in the Kibbutz. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  33. Treas, J., van der Lippe, T., & Tai, T. C. (2011). The happy homemaker? Married women’s well-being in cross-national perspective. Social Forces, 90, 11–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Van Vugt, M. (2009). Sex differences in intergroup competition, aggression and warfare. The male warrior hypothesis. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1167, 124–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vieira Lima, S. (2011). A cross-country investigation of the determinants of the happiness gender gap. Downloaded Jan. 14, 2014 from:
  36. Villeval, M. C. (2012). Ready, steady, compete. Science, 335, 544–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Willson, J., & Dickerson, A. (2010). Part time employment and happiness: a cross-country analysis. Sheffield Economic Research Paper Series, #2010021, available at:

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryRoss University Medical SchoolPortsmouthDominica (Eastern Caribbean)
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ArizonaTucson AZUSA

Personalised recommendations