science of us

Fact-Checking That Study on Old Women’s Happiness With My Grandmother

Not my actual grandmother. Photo: Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty Images

You may have already read about the recent bummer from the U.K.’s National Health Service, a study on women’s happiness (or, really, lack thereof) throughout the lifespan. If you haven’t, here’s the CliffsNotes version: The study found that women are generally less happy than men for most of their lives, surpassing them only once they hit their mid-80s. Women are also more likely to say they’re unhappy at pretty much every stage of life, though on average, their happiness levels begin to pick up around retirement age.

That last part is a tiny bright spot, at least. Here’s a better one: We fact-checked this study with our own octogenarian — my grandmother Eileen Romm, also known to some as Mommom — and, well, she wasn’t really having it. Some quick stats about Mommom: She’s 83, widowed, a former preschool teacher’s aide, and she thinks women have this happiness thing under control, thank you very much. Below, a lightly edited version of our conversation.

So the study says that women are less happy than men for most of their lives until around their mid-80s, when things flip. Does that sound right to you?
I think women are happier than men.

Why’s that?
Do I have to give a reason why?

Yes, please.
I think women are happier than men because they’re more independent. I think they can do more than men. They have come into the business world and they can prove what they can do. I’m happier as a woman than I would be as a man.

Why do you think the study showed something different?
Because this has always been a man’s world, and men always dominated the business world and everything else, and it made them happy. But now I think women are going out into the business world themselves, and they get big positions. They can do what they want. They’re very independent, more independent than men, and I think women are happier.

Why do you say women are more independent?
I think that when a wife dies, a husband is more dependent on people to take care of him. When a husband dies, a woman is very independent and can continue her life and take care of things the way they were.

Another thing they found in this study is that women become happier in retirement, probably because that’s around the time that they generally have less to do in terms of household work and taking care of everyone. Does that check out, from your experience and your friends’ experience?
I retired three years ago, so that would be 2014. I think as we get older and we retire, we get happier because we’re free to do whatever we want, we don’t have the responsibility of all the domestic chores and we don’t have the responsibility of taking care of children. So we are free to do whatever we want.

So do you think that post-retirement is the happiest age? Or, what was your happiest age?
I think when I got married, and Poppop and I started a life and we bought a house and we set up housekeeping. That would be 1953, so I was 19.

What about your least happy age?
My most unhappy time was when Poppop died. I was 58 years old and I was left a widow at a young age, and it was very scary.

This study was done on British women specifically. Do you think we could apply it to women in the U.S., or do you think cultural differences play a role?
I think American women are happier than British women. I think they’re independent. America has always been the number-one country, and I think there are a lot of good things that have come out of here.

Thanks, Mommom! Any other thoughts?
I think that’s it, honey. Thank you for calling me!

My Grandma Fact-Checked That Study on Old Women’s Happiness