College freshman are more stressed today than ever before. So says a new report from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which found that only about 52 percent of first-year students rate their emotional health as above average or higher, down from 55 percent the year before. Those numbers were the lowest since researchers first starting asking freshmen about their emotional health in 1985.

Particularly striking was the happiness gap between the sexes. Fewer than 46 percent of female college freshmen reported themselves in good emotional shape, as compared with nearly 60 percent of their male classmates.

Researchers pointed to the recession as a possible explanation, noting that more students today are relying on grants and scholarships to finance their education than at any point in the past decade, and more than half of freshmen have taken out student loans. Meanwhile, nearly 5 percent of students have unemployed fathers and nearly 9 percent have unemployed mothers — signs of financial trouble at home that may intensify student stress.

The recession alone hardly seems an adequate explanation for the shift, however. For better or worse, most 18-year-olds possess an uncanny ability to focus on their own problems more than those of their parents, particularly after they move away from home. And the prospect of students fretting so much over the job market they will face in four years that they cannot enjoy themselves on campus today seems unlikely, considering how frequently their instructors complain about the challenge of getting their students to think past Saturday night.

Students today have cause for concern about their post-graduation prospects, but the female freshmen whose emotional health appears most precarious are the very ones poised to thrive amid the current “Mancession,” as our economic downturn has been dubbed. As The Atlantic reported last summer, three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost in the recession belonged to men and women now outpace men in the quest for college degrees by a margin of three-to-two.

Yet we continue to see evidence of what economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have dubbed “the paradox of declining female happiness.” In a 2009 American Economic Journal article, Stevenson and Wolfers probed the disconnect between the unprecedented professional and economic success of American women and their rising rates of emotional dissatisfaction — both as compared with women since 1972 and as compared with men.

This rising female discontent, tracked through 35 years of General Social Survey data, surfaced among women of all ages, though the happiness gap between the sexes was slightly more pronounced among the very young. Studies of high school seniors conducted since 1976 revealed “a large decline in girls’ happiness relative to that of boys,” the authors noted, with girls expressing significantly less satisfaction in their relationships today than in years past.

Full article on by Colleen Carroll Campbell, a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is

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