Anew NHS survey shows women to be unhappier than men for almost their entire lives – until their mid-80s, by when the men with whom they have often shared those lives have usually dropped dead. It is not an encouraging scenario. That women are unhappy until their partners die is not flattering for men. For the women, it is even worse – they are the miserable ones. Post-Weinstein, we fear that powerful men are toxic. Now it appears that everyday male partners are toxic, too.
This must be put into context – men are three times more likely to kill themselves. But for everyday misery, women beat men every time. For anyone of a remotely feminist persuasion, this is unanswerable proof that men are a trial, a burden and selfish to boot. Men make you miserable.
Women are unhappiest in the middle years, with 24% aged between 45 and 54 classifiable as mentally ill. Kate Lovett, dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, explains that at this point women “are still more likely to bear the brunt of domestic and caring responsibilities”. The misery levels tail off as old age kicks in and the burdens of children and looking after ageing parents lessen. All women have to make them miserable then is their husbands.
Further analysis of the figures supports the case that men are the problem. Above the age of 65, more men than women have mental health problems – 19% against 14% – because men who are single, widowed or divorced are more likely to develop depression. In contrast, married women are the most likely to be miserable. One of the comments following a newspaper article in which this survey is reported talks about a grandmother who hated her husband so much that when he went to the loo, she would get up and punch the chair, pretending it was him.
As a man, I feel compelled to offer an alternative explanation for wives’ unhappiness. Psychometric analyses show women, cross-culturally, registering higher levels in four of the “big five” personality matrices: agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion (the other is openness).
Most of these differences are relatively small, if consistent, but the “neurotic” matrix – and this a misleading word, as it does not mean “hysterical” or “hypersensitive”, but something more like “easily hurt” – has the biggest variation by far. Women tend to be higher in negative emotion and more responsive to grief, threat, punishment and isolation, whether they are Swedish, Spanish or Saudi. The phenomenon crosses all cultures, suggesting, heretically, that it is inborn. And conscientiousness, while useful, can lead to unhealthy perfectionism: if you expect things to be perfect you will be disappointed.
If you discount psychometrics – some brand it junk science – there are other reasons why women in middle age are likely to be unhappy. The menopause isn’t much fun. And perhaps the fading of physical charm that both genders experience may be taken harder by women, as it is usually so much more powerful for them in the first place.
I am not making excuses for men. Well, I am. Perhaps our ability to wriggle off the hook is the other reason why we find more reasons to be cheerful. Maybe women are unhappier than men because they pin themselves to higher moral standards.
I think I would rather be happy than good. Women should try it. They might be amazed at how much their partners appreciate it, because it will reduce their burden of male guilt. And, at the same time, it will cheer up the women themselves. Given all the chairs wives will no longer have to punch, there will be a considerable saving on upholstery.