Thursday, June 07, 2007

Why Dutch Women are happier

I read an article here about why Dutch women are less likely to be depressed. Some of the points were funny--like they determined which nationalities are happier based on a scale invented by (you guessed it) a Dutch man! and they say the people in Holland invented the nuclear family.

But the main points were interesting. The book the article is based on apparently is full of research supporting the claims. The author says that Dutch women are happier because they have more freedoms and more voice in their world than other women. The article mentions more than once that the women are free to be prostitutes or do drugs legally.

But the drugs and sex can't be it. Russians are also free to do these things, and nobody is looking to them as a model of a happy culture. In fact, the drugs and alcohol and promiscuity seem to be destroying the Russian culture. So that can't be it.

But some things they mentioned could be it. Two things stood out to me.

One was that the pressures that depress women in America to a great extent are lacking in the Dutch culture. Hospitality and glamour are minimized. The article says that women dress for the weather, not for sexuality, for example, and if you show up at dinner time, you'll be sent home, not invited in. Removing the need to look "right" and "sexy" and removing the need to make your home up based on visitor's needs (the way we do in America) would eliminate more than half the pressures that depress women. Suddenly weight, and poverty, and messy houses wouldn't matter as much.

The bigger of the two, though, was the emphasis on Family. The article says Dutch women are happier because they are surrounded by supportive families and a culture that emphasizes that. 80% of elderly people live with family still, which, if the elderly are functioning, adds just another helpful adult to the household, and guarantees the retired woman is not left lonely and gets the help she needs, too. There is an expectation that all men help with housework--eliminating the idea that Dadddy should be thanked when he does the dishes, but nobody even notices when Mommy does. Furthermore, while more than half of Dutch women do have jobs, most of them only work part time (25 hours a week or less). Women who work full time are, in fact, stigmatized.

So why are Dutch women less inclined to be depressed? Because their culture is family-oriented. Interestingly, the women perceive themselves as very free. American women have falled prey to the lie that freedom means freedom from family obligations, but if the Dutch women are to be believed, that is the one thing that makes us happy and, in reality, feel free.

As I see it, the women are pressured to be present and active in their families, have talents and interests that they pursue (but not full-time), and not worry about those extraneous things that make it hard to raise a family, like the American emphasis on glamour, big houses, big cars, entertaining visitors, etc.

One thing they didn't mention was that the Dutch don't drive much, so they get lots of exercise. They are also a socialist society, though not an oppressive one, so everyone has health care and a home. Interestingly, they don't really get the kind of freedom of choice regarding their homes--you have to get on a long wait list to get a bigger apartment or a house near a city, if it's still the way it was when I was in the country--but that really takes the pressure off regarding homes. Because of the way it's set up, a home is not an identity marker or a bragging point. It's a place to live. Isn't that how it should be? The article also didn't mention that the people have a well-established education system, and, while children do have to specialize in high school (which I am definitively NOT in favor of), they do get excellent education in their chosen fields. They also have excellent art and music education.

Don't read this to say I am in favor of socialism--I am just noticing that one side effect of capitalism is conspicuous consumption, and that, culturally, is bad for the happiness and success of women raising families because it puts the focus on the wrong things, and puts an inordinate amount of pressure on mothers and fathers to do things that are contrary to the success of families.

So why are Dutch women happy? They are free to do the righteous things that make life worthwhile.

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