Students’ values shape their majors and their jobs. Those who want to make a lot of money (on average, more men) are more likely to major in economics or business; men are more than 50 percent more likely than women to major in economics at every Ivy League university. Those who prize flexibility and accept lower pay (on average, more women) are more likely to be in the humanities. When Wiswall and Zafar followed up several years later, they discovered that college values predict first jobs: “Students with strong preferences for flexible hours and distaste for hours” were more likely to be in jobs with flexible hours and fewer hours.
Young American men’s preference for risk and reward has been established in other research. In a 2005 study from Stanford University, men and women solving math equations for money in a university lab were given the option to complete the problems in a tournament, where they had a smaller chance of winning but a higher potential reward. Men were twice as likely as women to enter the tournament—73 percent compared to 35 percent—and many who entered the tournament won less money. The study’s conclusion: Women sometimes shy away from competition, but also, “men compete too much.”
When Harvard Business School surveyed 25,000 of its male and female graduates, it found that high-achieving women failed to meet their career goals. At graduation, most women said they expected “egalitarian” marriages, where both spouses’ careers were taken equally seriously, but several years later, more women had deferred their husbands’ careers. This study, and others, suggest that while married couples often make work-and-home decisions as a unit, the cultural expectation that men be the top providers proves to be an insurmountable force, even (or especially) among the best educated households.
And yet there is evidence that women in the U.S. and in other rich countries are happier at the office, because they have sought out work that is more flexible. Female employees report being happier than men at work, according to a 2014 study by the Council on Contemporary Families. Researchers said the happiness gap might be explained by the fact that women work fewer hours and have more of the flexibility that they crave. This was not an isolated finding. Another 2014 study, from the University of Warwick, also concluded that women were more satisfied at work than men, partly because they spent less time at work. In an interview with The Daily Mail, one of the study’s authors noted that the survey found a link between choosing to work part-time and job satisfaction.
Rich American men, by comparison, are the workaholics of the world. They put in significantly longer hours than both fully employed middle-class Americans and rich men in other countries. Between 1985 and 2010, the weekly leisure time of college-educated men fell by 2.5 hours, more than any other demographic. "Building wealth to them is a creative process, and the closest thing they have to fun,” the economist Robert Frank wrote. Internationally, there is a positive relationship between income and happiness, but the behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman has found that the plutocratic dreams of young educated men, like the ones in the NYU study, are immiserating fantasies:
When someone reflects on how additional income would change [their sense of] well-being, they are probably tempted to think about spending more time in leisurely pursuits such as watching a large-screen plasma TV or playing golf … But in reality, they should think of spending a lot more time working and commuting and a lot less time engaged in passive leisure. ... By itself, this shift in time is unlikely to lead to much increase in experienced happiness.
Around the globe, the happiest countries seem to take an approach to work that’s more in line with the values of young women in the NYU study. Rich Europeans in general work significantly less than Americans, and yet seven of the 10 happiest countries of the world are in Europe. Northern Europeans’ unusually high satisfaction at work has been tied to the prevalence of flexible work hours.