The New Battle of the Sexes: Understanding the Reversal of the Happiness Gender Gap
In the Paradox of Declining Female Happiness, Stevenson and Wolfers (2007) document a new “gender gap” between the sexes, in which women today generally report lower subjective well-being relative to men. Motivated by recent work on gender-specific preferences, this paper considers whether changes in contraceptive technology, and the Pill especially, may have played some role in the declining relative (self-reported) happiness of women. We examine a simple model in which men and women have different preferences over sex and children. We find that plausible differences in male-female preference structures can yield the observed reversal in relative happiness following the introduction of a single technology which may prevent conception but yields no disutility to men. We attempt to characterize the fundamental tradeoffs in a static game of complete information, and make some extensions to repeated games. We find that preference structures substantially change the way in which the Pill may affect bargaining power and outcomes. The model suggests that men may have benefited more than women from the Pill in particular, and raises the question of whether other forms of family planning might better equalize the relative positions of men and women in partnerships. These results have particular relevance for feminist critiques of the sexual revolution.
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