Sydney Morning Herald

Miserable? You're most likely male

By Adele Horin
July 10 2002
Sydney Morning Herald

What is ailing Australian men? On average they are significantly less happy than Australian women, says a new study that runs counter to overseas research.

Whether they are single or married, have children or not, Australian men fall below comparable women on the happiness scale. And if they live alone, the average man is positively despondent.

The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, a survey of 2000 Australians, shows the key to happiness is having a partner. Having money doesn't hurt either.

Professor Robert Cummins, of Deakin University, co-author of the study, said the surprising finding was the 3 per cent happiness gap between men and women.

"It's a most peculiar result," he said. "But it's been consistent over our three surveys. Generally, [happiness] surveys in Western countries show no gender difference. Men and women might put their wellbeing together in different ways. But usually they end at the same place."

If anything, men in other countries tended to be the happier sex, especially during stressful stages in life, such as when children were small, he said.

Australian men are happy enough if they have a partner, though not as happy as Australian women who have a partner.

The survey asked people to rate their happiness in many areas on a scale of one to 10. On the happiness scale - where 70 per cent is regarded as a minimum level of wellbeing - married men rate themselves at 76.5 per cent (women are 78.3). But separated men rate the lowest of any group in the survey (61 per cent).

Separation is a "serious period of crisis for these men", the study says.

Many men may be unhappy because they have lost not only their partners, but immediate access to their children, Professor Cummins said.

Although separated women are none-too-happy either (67.6 per cent), they seem to bounce back better as time passes. Divorced women (at 69 per cent) are almost back to a normal level of wellbeing. But divorced men (at 65.9 per cent) are still well below par.

"It is notable how females appear more resilient to the failure of marriage than males," says the study.

Professor Cummins, who heads the Australian Centre on Quality of Life, says having a partner has by far the strongest influence on happiness.

The study found that women aged over 60, who were healthy, financially secure, and were empty-nesters, were the happiest Australians. And the average old person was happier than the average young one.

He attributed women's higher happiness ratings to their capacity for building social networks.

However, he said that whether Australian women had a particular gift for friendship which explained the happiness gap was the "$64,000 question".

Widows also rate high on happiness. This group may have had a difficult time as carers of ailing partners - and widowhood could be seen as a relief - or may have endured long, unhappy marriages.

Copyright © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald