Boys are generally happier in life compared to girls, according to a UK-wide well-being study – and an Altrincham-based child psychologist believe the way women are portrayed in the media is to blame.
The Office for National Statistics surveyed approximately 4,000 children and the results showed boys being happier with general life, friends and appearance.
The biggest difference in happiness between boys and girls was seen in appearance and Altrincham-based child psychologist Corinne Abisgold said the media and adults play their part.
“My initial reaction is to anticipate girls being unhappier with their appearance, because I think girls get more messages from the media about how they should look,” she said.
“I think it is a combination of the media – without a shadow of a doubt – and also the way in which adults respond to girls.
“People will comment on how lovely babies look if they are dressed up as a girl. They don’t say that as much to boys.”
University of London Institute of Education professor Shirley Dex said the gap between boys and girls in unhappiness with appearance increases during early teenage years.
“Boys increase over these years only goes from 11% (age 12) to 14% (age 16) compared with girls from 13% (age 12) to 28% (age 16),” she said.
New Philanthropy Capital well-being measure operations manager Laura Finch added the growing difference occurs naturally due to women maturing quicker than their male peers.
“With this maturity comes a heightened sense of self awareness, and the tendency to compare oneself with others,” she said.
“Generally speaking, girls become aware of their looks at a younger age and are vulnerable to pressure from their peers and the norms established by society.
“For example, in the media about what ‘perfection’ looks like and how they should strive for it.”
University of York social policy professor Jonathan Bradshaw acknowledged a natural widening gap in happiness between boys and girls.
However, he also said there are non-physiological features that are effectively minimalising the difference.
“The gap between girls and boys happiness increases between ten and 15 and it probably has a physiological component,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“But the gap has been narrowing and that cannot be attributed to physiology. Girls’ friendships and views about school improved most.”
Girls appear happier with school and their work and Ms Abisgold said they are more programmed to concentrate, whereas boys prefer to remain active.
“My view is that schools are quite female-dominated,” she added. “Lots of teachers are female and a lot of the qualities of girls are highly prized.
“We know that girls are quicker at developing the ability to sit still and listen from an early age.
“They are often better with organisation in the teenage years, so they are better at looking ahead and setting goals.”
Ms Abisgold also said adolescent boys are ‘short-term risk takers’ and believed teenage girls were better equipped to consider their future prospects.
Ms Dex added boys’ unhappiness with school work was linked with underachievement and their productivity compared to girls.
Along with the ONS study, Ms Abisgold said there are more variables interacting with the element of happiness.
“It is an interaction of the personality of the child, the family background, the experiences they encounter and how they interpret those experiences,” Ms Abisgold said.
“Boys experience life slightly differently to girls – I think there is a sex difference between both in terms of how they relate to life.
“It also applies to men and women and I think women are more sensitive to social dynamics and things that are going on around them.
“That is what women are programmed to do, because we need to be more socially aware. Men are more programmed to have one focus and stick to it.”
Ms Dex related to the view that there are several variables, which may require consideration to analyse happiness in a child.
“The other things also known to affect happiness in young people may also differ by gender, but have not been entered into multivariate models,” she said.
“These are namely bullying – decreases happiness – whether young people think their parents get on well – increases happiness if so – and friendships, which may be more important to girls.”
The ONS study highlighted choice and family as the two biggest factors impacting children’s happiness, which Ms Finch agreed with but she also underlined other aspects.
“NPC’s Well-being measure identifies the importance of softer outcomes, such as self-esteem and resilience, which enable a child to cope with the challenges that life will throw at them,” she said.
“A wide range of factors contribute to a child’s well-being and it can be hard to disentangle the impact that different projects and interventions might have.
“More research is definitely needed in this area, so we can identify and develop the best ways of supporting young people to be happy and healthy.”
Picture courtesy of Zitona Qatar, with thanks.