Australian women are now as miserable as men have always been.

Data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey indicates a decline in life satisfaction among females during the first decade of the 21st century.

Jen Ulichnyheadshot.webJen Ulichny (left), an honours researcher at Griffith Business School, is investigating what lies behind this unexpected outcome as part of her Advanced MBA studies.

She believes reduced social connectedness could be underpinning the falloff in life satisfaction.

“These results are surprising,” she says. “In most westernised democratic countries, females have made significant strides in terms of social changes towards equality over the previous two generations. It would be reasonable to expect these changes to increase female wellbeing and happiness.”

The HILDA survey, however, indicates a statistically significant decline in life satisfaction for females between 2001 and 2011.

In pursuit of an explanation, Jen Ulichny’s honours research project has examined existing data and literature around social connectedness, with a focus on the four major components of social connectedness — sense of belonging; sense of support; contact with family and friends; involvement in the community.

“Results suggest that these components are immensely important to wellbeing, and while our senses of belonging and support have not declined, Australian men and women are saying that they see friends and loved ones less frequently and are participating less and less in community-based events and hobbies.

“The need for quality connections also seems to be different between women and men, so this decline appears to have a much greater impact on women. Wellbeing among women is therefore affected a lot more when meetings with friends and family are not as regular as before, or when they feel detached from their community.”

Jen Ulichny undertook her honours research under the supervision of Dr Christopher Fleming, Director of the Social and Economic Research Program at Griffith Business School. She has been assisted by Christopher Ambrey, a PhD Candidate at Griffith Business School.

“Happiness is important. It has a positive effect on people physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Happiness is associated with better health and a naturally-boosted immune system, with increased productivity, and success in both professional life and personal relationships.”

“Fostering social connectedness would appear to be one channel through which social welfare might be promoted and further research is warranted in this area. Particularly how to encourage social connections in the workplace and gaining better understanding on the impact of electronic communication channels like email and social media in relation to social connectedness. Are these enhancing or hindering an individual’s capacity to feel socially connected?

Jen Ulichny will present her findings next month at the inaugural Gender Economics Global Conference in a paper titled Pretty in Prozac: The role of social connectedness in declining life satisfaction of Australian females.

This year’s conference takes place in Sydney on June 10-11, bringing together academics, pragmatists, experts and business leaders to explore issues of gender in the workplace and also propose implementable solutions to harness the full power of human talent across the globe.