- Subjective well-being data have come to be used in the psychology and economics literatures because they have been shown to be correlated with more objective measures of happiness. Yet these measures do not necessarily indicate that subjective well-being measures are able to capture the positive or negative consequences of large-scale social changes over time. It has been recognized that an individual’s assessment of their well-being may reflect the social desirability of responses and Kahneman (1999) argues that people in good circumstances may be hedonically better off than people in worse circumstances, yet they may require more to declare themselves happy.
In the context of the findings presented in this paper, women may now feel more comfortable being honest about their true happiness and have thus deflated their previously inflated responses. Or, as in Kahneman’s example, the increased opportunities available to women may have increased what women require to declare themselves happy. And indeed, Figure 7 shows that contrary to the subjective well-being trends we document, female suicide rates have been falling, even as male suicide rates have remained roughly constant through most of our sample.