Happiness ‘linked to family and loved ones’

People’s happiness is significantly bound up with that of their family and loved ones suggesting that policymakers need to pay more attention to issues such as work life balance, a new study into men and women’s differing attitudes to well-being has found.

A dad and boy hug in the kitchen smiling whilst a woman looks on


Sociologists at the University of Cambridge have found that, although men and women give different answers when asked about what affects their quality of life, many in fact associate personal happiness with the welfare of families and loved ones at a deeper level.

The study compiled the views of more than 10,000 people. Although their responses appeared to confirm gender stereotypes, with more men for example mentioning “finance” in connection with their well-being and women more commonly referring to their families, closer analysis revealed that many respondents were linking their own happiness with that of the people closest to them, but phrasing that link in gender-specific terms.

Men, for instance, often connected financial security with well-being because they still saw themselves as “breadwinners”. Similarly, women were more likely to mention the family, because they still perceive themselves as the principal carers of children or elderly relatives.

The significance of others in determining well-being also appears to become more profound over time, as people take on new responsibilities, by entering into long-term relationships, or becoming parents or grandparents.

The researchers argue that this fundamental concern with our nearest and dearest cuts across the traditional gender divide and should be a key issue for policy-makers and employers when addressing the question of people’s work-life balance.

“Men and women may view happiness differently, but when you dig deeper and look at the nature of their perceptions, you find that in both cases their well-being is bound up with that of others,” Professor Jacqueline Scott, who led the study, said.

“In a sense it’s obvious, but it’s also been completely ignored. Most policy-making on happiness has focused on improving conditions for individuals. Our research suggests that more should be done to support the actions of both men and women in caring for others, because that will have benefits for everybody’s quality of life.”

Dads and flexible working

The research supports recent studies showing that dads are keen to work more flexibly and be more involved with their children’s lives, even if social and other pressures mean they often don’t apply for flexible working. Other research, cited recently by Working Families, shows many dads feel lower levels of engagement at work than other employees and are less motivated.

The study appears in a new book, Gender Inequalities In The 21st Century, which is co-edited by Professor Scott and will be launched today.

The book shows that, although gender inequalities are changing and how many inequalities of earlier eras are being eradicated, there are new barriers and constraints that are slowing progress in attaining a more egalitarian society.

“Society today is witnessing an ongoing paradigm shift in gender relations,” says Professor Scott. “We have gone beyond the male breadwinner/ female homemaker post-war family. Dramatic changes have taken place in the workforce and enormous progress has been made in policy, but a gap remains in women’s attainment in the world of paid work, and this relates to the unequal division of unpaid work in the home.”

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