Companies & Industries

Ten Myths about the Lives of Women


Studies show assumptions about women and leadership are often wrong

1. With better education, better jobs, and better pay, women today are happier and more fulfilled than they were 40 years ago.

Actually, the opposite is true. Surveys of more than 1.3 million men and women reveal that women today are less happy relative to where they were 40 years ago, and relative to men.

2. Women become more engaged and fulfilled as they get older.

No, men do. According to a 40-year study of 46,000 men and women, women begin their lives more satisfied than men and then gradually become less satisfied with every aspect of their lives—marriage, finances, things they own, even family.

3. At work, women are relegated to lower level roles.

In fact, 37% of women hold managerial positions, vs. 31% of men.

4. Most men think that men should be the primary breadwinner and women should be the primary caretaker.

While 74%of men agreed with this statement in 1977, only 42% say that today. (39% of women agree.)

5. Women would prefer to work for other women.

About 40% of women want to work for men, while 26% prefer a female boss.

6. Flexible work options, such as paid leave and telecommuting, allow women to feel happier at work.

Studies actually show a negative correlation between taking advantage of such options and a women's self-reported daily happiness. These programs, by themselves, won't make you happy.

7. Motherhood makes women happier.

Studies show married mothers are more stressed and less happy than married women with no kids.

8. Kids want more time with their working mothers.

Not according to the kids. When 1,000 children in grades 3-12 were asked what they wanted from their mom, only 10% said "more time." More than a third said they wanted their mom to be "less stressed and tired."

9. Women are good at multitasking.

Women are no better at it than men, and research shows that your IQ drops 10 points when you do two tasks at once.

10. Women are paid less for the same job.

The oft-quoted 77¢ on the dollar figure is accurate. But almost all of the gap is caused by different levels of experience. Women interrupt their careers and that leads to being perceived as having less experience.

For more information on the studies behind each myth, check out these sources:

1. B. Stevenson and J. Wolfers, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, working paper, 2007.

2. Anke C. Plagnol and Richard A. Easterlin, Aspirations, Attainments, and Satisfaction: Life Cycle Differences between American Women and Men, Journal of Happiness Studies, vol. 9 (2008): 601-19.

3. U.S. Labor Dept., Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings, 2007 Annual Averages and the Monthly Labor Review (Nov. 9, 2008).

4. Ellen Galinsky, Kerstin Aumann, and James P. Bond, Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and at Home; Families & Work Institutes, The 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce.

5. Gallup Poll: "If you were taking a new job and had your choice of a boss, would you prefer to work for a man or a woman?" (Aug. 7-10, 2006) N=1,007 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (for all adults) (accessed on Nov. 23, 2008).

6. M. Mattingly and L. Sayer, Under Pressure: Gender Differences in the Relationship between Free Time and Feeling Rushed, Journal of Marriage & Family, vol. 68 (2006): 205-21.

7. R.J. Evenson and R. Simon, Clarifying the Relationship Between Parenthood and Depression," Journal of Health & Social Behavior, vol. 46 (2005): 341-58.

8. J. Coleman and S. Coontz, eds. "What Do Children Want from Their Working Parents? Unconventional Wisdom: A Survey of Research and Clinical Findings." Prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families' 10th Anniversary Conference at the University of Chicago (accessed on Dec. 4, 2008).

9. R. Moroney, "Men and Women Are Equally Bad at Multitasking," (Mar. 7, 2007, The Wall Street Journal (accessed on Jan. 13, 2009); Hewlett Packard, "Abuse of technology can reduce U.K. workers intelligence," (accessed on Jan. 13, 2009).

10. "Exactly how much housework does a husband create?" (University of Michigan News Service, Apr. 3, 2008) (accessed on Jan. 28, 2009).

Marcus Buckingham is a consultant and speaker on leadership and management practices. He is the coauthor of First, Break All the Rules (Simon Schuster, 1999) and Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press, 2001). This article is copyright 2005 by One Thing Productions and has been adapted with permission from Buckingham's new book, The One Thing You Need to Know (Free Press, March 2005).

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