Why Women's Happiness Declines As They Age

If women were more loved and cared for as they grew older, would they so fear becoming "bag ladies"?

Dear Goddess: Recent studies in the news suggest that women get sadder as they get older, and that men get happier. This seems to be true, researchers suggest, whether or not they have children, no matter where they live or what race or color they are. Do you think this is true?And what’s the reason?

Dear Earth Girl: I’ve read the same studies. It’s fascinating: The reasons given for this unhappiness range from women’s hormonal complications (remember the “raging hormones” theory of young girls’ distress at adolescence?), to the fact that older women fare less well than men do romantically. Other reasons given by researchers are the increase in life choices for women (this may account for dismay, but “unhappiness” feels like the wrong word), and loss of friends and family, attachments which women take more seriously, research suggests, than do men.

 Not one of the studies is interpreted in a way that jibes with what I hear from my darling earth women—who seem to me to grow more deeply authentic and thus stronger and more at peace with themselves over time, but perhaps increasingly more anxious. Why? My sense is that they feel that they love and take care of people all their lives, and then find that the last thing others want to do is love and care for them. When even the wealthiest women I know fear becoming a “bag lady," the core fear, I think, is a sense of disrespect and disregard for elderly women.Yes, some women are legitimately and others inappropriately afraid of poverty in their old age as a result of divorce, job loss,  insufficient social security or the myriad ways we can become poorer as we age. But what accounts for this terrifying sense of being thrown out onto the streets? Of having to live on cat food? Of being totally disenfranchised? What would make a woman of means—who can literally avoid these these terrors— fear all this?  
I believe older women’s anxiety is probably due to an inchoate sense that society no longer values them; that they will not be protected in their old age; that they are dispensable.  Men, it’s worth noting, whether rich or poor, rarely worry about becoming “bag men.” Because most men know in their bones that someone—a wife, an ex-wife, a daughter, a nurse, a friend, a grandchild, but surely usually a woman—will take care of them in their dotage. But women  don’t. Their beloved children, even if they are loving and caring, may live on opposite continents. Friends may be gone. For all the care and love women dole out over their lifetimes, they know in their hearts that for the most part, that flow of care poured out one way. It ain’t necessarily coming back.

A “60 Minutes” special last year declared Danes the happiest people on earth. Because they’re so light-hearted or jolly by nature? No, not hardly, but they know one thing deep in their hearts, and that is that they will be taken care of when they age in Denmark. Freud himself believed that money fears were linked, somehow, to sexual issues. I suggest that bag lady fears encompass all sorts of issues besides money: sex but also love and regard. Whether you’re in favor of state support or not, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, surely this “happiness” researchers unearthed in Danes had to do with Danish women’s lack of anxiety about becoming bag ladies when they grew old.

The Love Goddess can address all your earthly love, dating, sex and marriage issues. Read our interview with her  here. Post a question for her in the comments section above or visit her on her heavenly website.

Read related stories:
10 Keys to Happiness
7 Money Lies (and Truths) for the New Economy


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