OECD study reveals the secret of happiness: be a woman

John Bingham
23 May 2012

Across the world’s most advanced countries men work longer hours and earn higher wages but have a lower life expectancy, are more stressed and are more often exposed to danger.

Women by contrast are increasingly enjoying a higher standard of education than men and rank higher on measures of happiness.

But despite strides towards female emancipation – women still spend more than twice as long as men doing housework.

[Related feature: Seven ways to be a wonder woman]

The pattern emerges from an online index pulling together a information about everything from health, crime and income levels to “work-life balance” across the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Overall Australia is ranked as the world’s happiest nation according to the OECD’s “Better Life Index”.

The UK ranks eleventh, ahead of France, Germany and Ireland but well behind the US which comes third.

For the first time the data has been broken down not just along national lines but by age and gender.

It shows that while men are still slightly more likely than women to have a secondary education, the pattern is reversed among the young with women outperforming men.

In the workplace 59 per cent of women had jobs, including part-time work, compared with 72 per cent of men.

[Related article: Boost your happiness at work]

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom three quarters of men are in paid work, compared with 65 per cent of women.

Male employees are almost three times as likely to be classed as working “very long hours” as their female counterparts.

Although men do report slightly better health than women overall, they still lag behind women in life expectancy by a full six years across the OECD.

In Britain life expectancy from birth stands at around 80 years, with women still generally expected to outlive men by three years.

When it comes to safety and security, men are 15 per cent more likely to have been mugged or assaulted than women.

Meanwhile murder rates for men run at three killings for every 100,000 compared with one per 100,000 among women.

Nevertheless women feel less safe than men overall.

Despite strides towards greater gender equality, women across the OECD spend an average of 279 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring for children or the elderly against only 131 for men – a difference of two and a half hours.

But despite the disparities, when official measures of “happiness” are combined women report slightly higher measures of “life satisfaction” than men.

“Much has been said and written about the need for greater gender equality, but it is a rather complex picture,” the authors note.

“True, men earn more and work more than women, but they are also more likely to be victims of assault or murder, while women live longer and have stronger social networks but are more likely to end their lives in poverty.”

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