What A Survey Says About What Age Women's Happiness Peaks
Women are consistently less happy than men until they reach age 85, according to a massive new survey conducted by the NHS—at which point men reach peak unhappiness, and women are at their most content.
According to the annual Health Survey for England, the number of British people reporting mental ill-health is on the rise, with young women particularly affected. In general, across all age groups, 21 percent of women show signs of mental ill-health, whereas just 16 percent of men do. But that gap widens significantly when you look at young people, aged 16 to 24: twenty-eight percent of women, compared to 16 percent of men. (Even at their unhappiest age—85 and up—just 19 percent of men show signs of mental ill-health. At their happiest, 14 percent of women do.)
The NHS survey worked, in part, by having respondents fill out a 12-item General Heath Questionnaire, which measures characteristics such as general levels of happiness, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and self-confidence. Their scores were ranked on a scale of zero to 12, with 0 indicating no evidence of probable mental health. Any score above 4 counted as “probable psychological disturbance or mental ill health”—and, again, over one in five women fit this bill.
The survey’s findings will surely resonate with many women, living as we do in a fundamentally unequal society where we’re systematically denied equal pay, protection from harassment and discrimination, and basic bodily autonomy. Women are disproportionately likely to be depressed and anxious, according to the World Health Organizations, which stresses in an official document that low social rank is a powerful predictor of depression. “Women's subordinate social status is reinforced in the workplace as they are more likely to occupy insecure, low status jobs with no decision making authority,” it reads. “Traditional gender roles further increase susceptibility by stressing passivity, submission, and dependence and impose a duty to take on the unremitting care of others.”
According to Bridges, women tend to live longer than men on average, and to marry at younger ages. This means that, after 85, they may feel a sudden sense of freedom. "Old age is a time when [women] may be free to pursue things unavailable to them for much of their married lives," he posits. Perhaps one day women will live in a polyamorous utopia, able to fulfill their heart’s desires before they’re nearly ninety.