If you thought getting married would bring you your happily ever after, think again. According to the findings of a recent health survey in England, women are more miserable than men pretty much their entire lives. In fact, women only become happier than men after they turn 85 years old.
Yep, you read that correctly. It takes more than eight decades of life on this earth to surpass men in mental well-being. For context, the lovely and inimitable Dame Judi Dench—who once said, “Age is a number, it’s something imposed on you”—is only 83.
In December, the UK-based National Health Service released its annual Health Survey for England, which surveyed more than 8,000 British adults to find out national trends on obesity, smoking and drinking, and wellbeing. The report defined well-being as being “made up of things like the experience of positive emotions, people’s perceptions that the things they do in their lives are meaningful and worthwhile, and life satisfaction.”
Researchers found that 28 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 24 had mental health problems serious enough to be considered a disorder, compared to 16 percent of men in the same age group. Overall, women remained consistently less happy than men as they aged—until, that is, they reached retirement. They finally surpassed men on the happiness scale once they hit their mid-80s.
To get a better understanding of why the numbers fell the way they did, The Times UK spoke with several mental health advocates. Specifically, they wondered why women are generally more miserable than men. Kate Lovett, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the the media outlet it may be because women “are still more likely to bear the brunt of domestic and caring responsibilities.”
“Men who are single, widowed or divorced are more vulnerable to developing depression and men who are in this age bracket may be more likely to be on their own,” Lovett said. “Paradoxically, married women are often more likely to develop depression.”
If Lovett’s speculation is correct, theoretically, this burden of responsibility lessens as women get older because the kids are grown and off doing their own thing; elderly parents who needed care have passed on to the next life; and partners who refused to do their share of the housework are probably dead as well. In other words: Finally! Women can think about themselves!
The health survey didn’t offer any explanations for why women are unhappier than men for most of their lives. And maybe it’s OK that women have a bit of a chip on their shoulder, compared to men. As Rebecca Traister wrote for Salon in 2010: "Unhappiness is propellant; disappointment and dismay prompt us to work for a better grade, to ask for a promotion or seek a new job, to search for a more affordable or comfortable abode, to go out at night and meet someone new, to try to get pregnant or decide not to have another kid."
“More specifically,” she continued, “the elements of life that make us sad or upset or bored show us what we do not want; they give shape and specificity to what it is we do want and perhaps the motivation to work toward it. That which leaves us empty prompts us to find what we want to fill us up, whether it results in picking up a phone to talk to a friend or picking up and moving to Bali.”