ISET

ISET Economist Blog

A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Are Working Women Happy Women? View from the Greater Caucasus

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” – Aristotle


WHY STUDY HAPPINESS?

Already in ancient times philosophers debated the nature of happiness and the recipes for a happy and fulfilling life. Today this question is also hotly debated by scientists and politicians, who are particularly interested in what can be done to increase the happiness of their voters (and citizens, more generally). Happiness has become so important nowadays that four countries: Bhutan, Ecuador, UAE and Venezuela went so far as to employ ministers of happiness!

Everywhere around the world, including the West, we now hear proposals to assess public policies not only by looking at the impact they have on standard economic indicators but also on how they affect other aspects of wellbeing. For example, a greater focus on happiness has been recently advocated by UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron. "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money”, he argued, “and it's time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing." 

This is the motivation behind happiness economics – a new, fast developing field in economics research striving to increase our understanding of what, really, increases individual wellbeing.


DOES WORK FOR PAY MAKE THE SOUTH CAUCASUS WOMEN ANY HAPPIER?

We decided to contribute to the happiness literature by providing evidence about happiness and life satisfaction of working women and housewives in the South Caucasus. There are several immediate economic benefits to a society related to greater female participation in the labor market. Not being confined to the traditional role of housewives, women greatly contribute to a country’s development by providing a helping hand with productive activities, be it in services (including IT), agriculture and manufacturing. Additionally, by acquiring professional skills and experience women become less dependent on their spouses and/or society. Finally, having more than one bread winner in a household reduces its vulnerability to negative shocks, thereby reducing the risk of poverty. 

These all appear to be very good arguments for policymakers to encourage women to acquire professional skills and enter the labor market. But what if we add women’s happiness to the equation? 

The first question to ask is how women really feel about entering the labor market. Importantly, work for pay can both enhance and reduce individual happiness of working women. For example, working women may feel quite happy when pursuing own interests and personal fulfillment. Most often, however, paid work does not result from a free (unconstrained) choice, but rather responds to a need. In this case, there are two opposing forces at play. On the one hand, women may be forced to work and earn income in order to satisfy their needs and those of their families. Being able to earn additional income is certainly a good thing, promoting any person’s feeling of happiness. On the other hand, however, paid work outside the household may come on top of whatever activities women have to perform at home (even in the less traditional western societies house chores are mostly performed by women). A woman who ends up working “the second shift”, as Arlie Hochschild put it in 1989, might find it hard to enjoy her job and the extra income that comes with. 

The increased burden on working women is likely to be especially heavy in traditional societies, in which stereotypical gender roles are still very strongly rooted. The three countries in the South Caucasus are a clear case in point. In both Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, traditional values maintain their sway on households and societies as a whole, leading to a very unequal division of housework and care responsibilities among the genders. With this in mind it is not at all obvious that entering the labor market should always lead to an increase in women’s happiness.


TAKING THE QUESTION TO THE DATA

To shed some empirical light on this question we conducted a comparative analysis of happiness and life satisfaction of employed women and housewives in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, using the CRRC Caucasus Barometer data for 2010-2013. In each country we matched working women with comparable housewives (i.e. women with very similar demographic characteristics, like age, number or children, education level, etc.), and tried to understand: 1) which of the two groups seemed happier / more satisfied with life and 2) what seemed to drive the difference in happiness between the two groups. 

Our findings indicate that there are some curious differences in the way women feel given their employment status. In particular, we find a significantly lower level of happiness among employed women in Armenia (the gap is equivalent to 8% of the average level of happiness), a milder but still negative effect of employment on the happiness of working women in Azerbaijan (equivalent to 3% of the average level of happiness of women in this country), and a large positive effect of employment on life satisfaction of women in Georgia (equivalent to 15% of the average level of life satisfaction for Georgian women). So, working women appear to be less happy than housewives in Armenia and Azerbaijan, and more satisfied with their lives than Georgian housewives.

Further analysis suggests that the differences in the average levels of happiness and life satisfaction across the two groups are mostly driven by extreme cases (women who attain the top or bottom levels of happiness and life satisfaction). For example, Armenian working women are 16% less likely to be very happy compared to Armenian housewives. In other words, work is preventing many Armenian women from attaining the highest level of happiness. On the contrary, we find that working Georgian women are 9% less likely to report extreme dissatisfaction with life compared to Georgian housewives. In Azerbaijan, working women are 3% less likely to be very happy, and are 2% more likely to be very unhappy compared to Azeri housewives.


IS THERE SOMETHING THAT GEORGIA IS DOING BETTER?

What are the reasons for the differential impact of employment on working women’s happiness and life satisfaction in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia? Is it due to ethnical and cultural differences? Quality of formal institutions, such a preschool education? Types of jobs available to women in the three countries or any other economic incentives?

Understanding what is driving such differences is quite important, especially if the different outcomes are not God-given but rather are driven by institutions, which could be altered through public policies. This is why, in the second part of our research, we tried to disentangle the “country effect” (that is the impact of formal institutions in a country) from the “ethnicity effect” (that is the impact of ethnic norms). 

To answer this question, we conducted a separate analysis of women of Armenian and Azeri ethnicity living in Georgia. We find no negative effect from being employed among these ethnic groups, suggesting that the negative impact of employment on women’s happiness in Armenia and Azerbaijan might be due to country-specific effects rather than cultural or ethnic factors. 

What could be these country-specific institutional factors that make Georgia’s working women (regardless of their ethnicity) happier than their peers in Armenia and Azerbaijan? The most likely candidates are the significantly higher pre-school enrollment rate, and higher incidence of part-time work in Georgia. These factors might help minimize the stress of combining household duties with paid work, thus contributing to the feeling of happiness on the part of working women. 

Country Armenia Azerbaijan Georgia
Fertility rate, average births per woman (2010) 1.74 1.92 1.82
Gross enrollment ratio in pre-primary education, % (2010) 31 25 58
Share of women in part-time work, % (2003, 2008) 30.1 24.3 53.7
Source: UNESCO, “Education for all”; World Development Indicators


These, however, are merely educated guesses at the moment. Additional research would be required to determine the true nature of the relationship between public policies, institutions, female labor force participation, and women’s happiness. Armed with this knowledge, countries in the South Caucasus (and not only) would be able to heed to David Cameron’s advice and maximize not only Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also people’s gross wellbeing (GWB).


The article was first published in Georgia Today - Georgia's leading English language newspaper, published twice weekly.

 

Rate this blog entry:
15 Comments

Related Posts

Comments

 
Eric Livny on Tuesday, 26 April 2016 14:19

Am curious whether the same data could be used to analyze whether the husbands are happier as a result of their wives working outside the household. What about the children of working mothers? Are they happier?

Am curious whether the same data could be used to analyze whether the husbands are happier as a result of their wives working outside the household. What about the children of working mothers? Are they happier?
Nino Doghonadze on Tuesday, 26 April 2016 17:27

This would be very interesting questions to answer. Unfortunately, however, the survey is not collecting data on happiness levels for members of the HH.

This would be very interesting questions to answer. Unfortunately, however, the survey is not collecting data on happiness levels for members of the HH.
Florian Biermann on Tuesday, 26 April 2016 22:12

Why is gender relevant when it comes to the connection between work and happiness? Paid work does not result from a free (unconstrained) choice, but rather responds to a need. __ that applies to men as well. Moreover, it is likely that the social pressure on men to work outside home is much higher than for women. The effect of work on mens happiness should be more of a concern, as women have more of a choice in this respect.

The right question would be: whats the effect of work on happiness?

Why is gender relevant when it comes to the connection between work and happiness? Paid work does not result from a free (unconstrained) choice, but rather responds to a need. __ that applies to men as well. Moreover, it is likely that the social pressure on men to work outside home is much higher than for women. The effect of work on mens happiness should be more of a concern, as women have more of a choice in this respect. The right question would be: whats the effect of work on happiness?
Eric Livny on Wednesday, 27 April 2016 10:56

But why not address this question to both genders and compare the results? My hypothesis is that men without paid jobs would report extremely high levels of unhappiness precisely because of the social pressure to work outside.

But why not address this question to both genders and compare the results? My hypothesis is that men without paid jobs would report extremely high levels of unhappiness precisely because of the social pressure to work outside.
Nino Doghonadze on Wednesday, 27 April 2016 11:05

Indeed, what you are posing are the right questions to be asked. However, I assume that different factors work in different ways when speaking about drivers of men vs women to work. For example, kids at home would most likely prevent women from working while foster employment of men. So, gender is an important aspect in studying this topic. Plus, this is a kind of a test of the feminist logic of earlier years.

Indeed, what you are posing are the right questions to be asked. However, I assume that different factors work in different ways when speaking about drivers of men vs women to work. For example, kids at home would most likely prevent women from working while foster employment of men. So, gender is an important aspect in studying this topic. Plus, this is a kind of a test of the feminist logic of earlier years.
Eric Livny on Wednesday, 27 April 2016 11:21

Am attending a gender conference in Stockholm :-)

Am attending a gender conference in Stockholm :-)
Florian Biermann on Wednesday, 27 April 2016 13:40

Eric, you are right that unemployed men might feel unhappy not because they love to work so much but because of the social pressure to work. This factor, on the other hand, also kicks in with women. They might feel unhappy working if they adhere to social norms according to which women should take care of the family. They might also feel unhappy at home because of more progressive social norms which require women to work. This might, by the way, also be the reason for differences in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. Perhaps the institutions are the same, but social norms are different.

The fact that happiness is very much determined by social norms seems to be a big problem for the whole economics of happiness approach.

Eric, you are right that unemployed men might feel unhappy not because they love to work so much but because of the social pressure to work. This factor, on the other hand, also kicks in with women. They might feel unhappy working if they adhere to social norms according to which women should take care of the family. They might also feel unhappy at home because of more progressive social norms which require women to work. This might, by the way, also be the reason for differences in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. Perhaps the institutions are the same, but social norms are different. The fact that happiness is very much determined by social norms seems to be a big problem for the whole economics of happiness approach.
Eric Livny on Wednesday, 27 April 2016 13:57

The fact that happiness (or utility) are determined by social norms may be a problem not only for the whole economics of happiness but for economics as a whole.

The fact that happiness (or utility) are determined by social norms may be a problem not only for the whole economics of happiness but for economics as a whole.
Super User on Sunday, 01 May 2016 18:40

I was wondering whether all women in your sample have children. It was mentioned in the article that women in Georgia are happier than women in Armenia and Azerbaijan probably because of having part-time working opportunity. I think those women who are married but have no children would have been even unhappier by not working or working part time. I had colleagues in the past, who were married and had the opportunity to compare their behaviour (happiness) before and after having kids. So, after having kids they seem to be very happy and the only thing they could think of, were their children. Therefore, hours spent in the work, would decrease their level of happiness. But what if the income earned by wife is necessary for family's survival. If taking into account the latter argument I think those women, who contribute to family's wellbeing, will be happier than those who does not. Are your results conditional on income earned by husband?

I was wondering whether all women in your sample have children. It was mentioned in the article that women in Georgia are happier than women in Armenia and Azerbaijan probably because of having part-time working opportunity. I think those women who are married but have no children would have been even unhappier by not working or working part time. I had colleagues in the past, who were married and had the opportunity to compare their behaviour (happiness) before and after having kids. So, after having kids they seem to be very happy and the only thing they could think of, were their children. Therefore, hours spent in the work, would decrease their level of happiness. But what if the income earned by wife is necessary for family's survival. If taking into account the latter argument I think those women, who contribute to family's wellbeing, will be happier than those who does not. Are your results conditional on income earned by husband?
Nino Doghonadze on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 16:10

Laura, thanks for sharing your observations. It is very important in understanding the cross-country differences. The answer to the first question is no, not all women have children in our sample. Moreover, some of them are even not married. I personally agree with your logic that women with kids would be happier but in fact, the literature points to absolutely opposite. Unfortunately, we are not given the chance to follow a panel of respondents over time, so based on this sample, we can not say whether literature or our belief is correct. As of husbands, again no is the answer. We do not, because we cannot, control for spouses income. In addition to the fact that we have no data on spouses income, as I mentioned earlier, not all women are married.

Laura, thanks for sharing your observations. It is very important in understanding the cross-country differences. The answer to the first question is no, not all women have children in our sample. Moreover, some of them are even not married. I personally agree with your logic that women with kids would be happier but in fact, the literature points to absolutely opposite. Unfortunately, we are not given the chance to follow a panel of respondents over time, so based on this sample, we can not say whether literature or our belief is correct. As of husbands, again no is the answer. We do not, because we cannot, control for spouses income. In addition to the fact that we have no data on spouses income, as I mentioned earlier, not all women are married.
Super User on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 18:30

Nino wouldn't it have have been better to take a sample of only married women who have children and compare those women with housewives who have similar characteristics? My guess is that the results will be different for women who are married and have no children. I think those women will be happier by working rather than staying at home. Also for women who are not married working should result in a higher level of happiness. So, what do you think, would your results have been more precise if you had done estimation for separate groups of women?

Nino wouldn't it have have been better to take a sample of only married women who have children and compare those women with housewives who have similar characteristics? My guess is that the results will be different for women who are married and have no children. I think those women will be happier by working rather than staying at home. Also for women who are not married working should result in a higher level of happiness. So, what do you think, would your results have been more precise if you had done estimation for separate groups of women?
Nino Doghonadze on Wednesday, 04 May 2016 10:53

Laura, our methodology (matching) compares similar women to each other. So, we compare married to married and single with single in the end. So, it should not give cardinally different results, unless you think that magnitude of effect of work on happiness is radically different for different groups.

Laura, our methodology (matching) compares similar women to each other. So, we compare married to married and single with single in the end. So, it should not give cardinally different results, unless you think that magnitude of effect of work on happiness is radically different for different groups.
Super User on Wednesday, 04 May 2016 16:32

Nino, yes exactly I think work effects differently on different groups of women! It is a nice topic to research further.
Finally, congratulations on publishing this article in Georgia Today :-)

Nino, yes exactly I think work effects differently on different groups of women! It is a nice topic to research further. Finally, congratulations on publishing this article in Georgia Today :-)
Nino Doghonadze on Wednesday, 04 May 2016 16:38

Good idea, thanks.
Thanks for congratulation, but it is nothing special. Our blogs get published weekly in this newspaper. Thanks anyway :)

Good idea, thanks. Thanks for congratulation, but it is nothing special. Our blogs get published weekly in this newspaper. Thanks anyway :)
Nodar on Friday, 06 May 2016 20:39

One of the debatable subject in economics in the sense of measurement. While I was reading the article and comments some ideas sparkled in my mind. Do we use proper explanatory variables to measure happiness? or what is the definition of happiness? I think there are as many definition of happiness as many individuals are in the world. Very interesting results you found. If we imagine ourselves in housewives shoes we can say that they should be happy. They have children, family and at least children make them happy, but what about other factors rather then children? when women see that her childrens needs increases she realizes she must work and earn some money. This is second side of coin. you found that employed women are happier than housewives. Partially this fact can explain your finding at least in my opinion. When women work and earn some money they can satisfy their childrens need and it may increase their happiness level. Women participation in the labor force also may increase their happiness as it can help them to realize their potential. It can increase their self-esteem and may give them enough internal power to keep balance between job and family. As you said in the last part of your article it needs more research and possibly some natural experiment may help us to understand properly economics of happiness and give us possibility to control other necessary variable which may affect womens level of happiness.

One of the debatable subject in economics in the sense of measurement. While I was reading the article and comments some ideas sparkled in my mind. Do we use proper explanatory variables to measure happiness? or what is the definition of happiness? I think there are as many definition of happiness as many individuals are in the world. Very interesting results you found. If we imagine ourselves in housewives shoes we can say that they should be happy. They have children, family and at least children make them happy, but what about other factors rather then children? when women see that her childrens needs increases she realizes she must work and earn some money. This is second side of coin. you found that employed women are happier than housewives. Partially this fact can explain your finding at least in my opinion. When women work and earn some money they can satisfy their childrens need and it may increase their happiness level. Women participation in the labor force also may increase their happiness as it can help them to realize their potential. It can increase their self-esteem and may give them enough internal power to keep balance between job and family. As you said in the last part of your article it needs more research and possibly some natural experiment may help us to understand properly economics of happiness and give us possibility to control other necessary variable which may affect womens level of happiness.
Already Registered? Login Here
Register
Guest
Sunday, 18 August 2019

Captcha Image

Our Partners