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WASHINGTON — All around the world, in rich nations and poor ones, women are happier with their lives than men are, although men are more optimistic about the future, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The gap between men and women is not limited to happiness and optimism and reflects differing perspectives on life, according to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, which oversaw 38,000 interviews in 44 countries. In 26 of the countries surveyed, more women said that they had seen progress in their lives, compared with five years ago.

The happiest people, men and women, live in the United States and Canada, the survey reported. They were also the most likely to be positive about their chances of reaching their goals. In contrast, people in Eastern Europe and parts of Africa were least satisfied with their lives.

The happiness gap between men and women is most pronounced in less developed countries and Japan. "In particular, women are much happier than men in Japan, India, the Philippines, Pakistan and Argentina," according to the survey. In North America and Western Europe, the difference between the genders was not as sharp, the survey found.

Interestingly, even those who are happiest are not as optimistic about their children's future. The survey found that more than half the men in Western Europe, Eastern and Southern Africa and countries in the midst of conflicts think the future will be worse for children. More than half the women in North America, Western Europe and Eastern and Southern Africa had a similar view.

"The greatest disparity in views about children's future is in Canada, where 45 percent of men but only 24 percent of women think children will have it better," the survey said.

"People seem to have a more pessimistic view of the future in more industrialized nations. They worry more about their children's future than in the lesser developed nations, where people say they have much higher hopes for their children, both men and women," said Nicole Speulda, the survey's project director.

The survey shows that men's and women's concerns uniformly split along stereotypical gender roles. Women were more often concerned about their health, children and education, and they listed disease as a major threat. In contrast, men said they were more often worried about government and politics and considered weapons of mass destruction a bigger threat than diseases.

Speulda speculated that one reason for those results is that more women than men are responsible for children, the elderly and the sick in their homes or communities. "We found the same exact trend, no matter what age, no matter the affluence level, that women did have much more of a caretaker role than men," Speulda said.

Women and men said they appreciated having access to birth control and family planning options. In two-thirds of the countries, more women than men said the ability to control reproduction "is a change for the better," the survey said. The gap in views between men and women toward birth control was greatest in Latin America.

The survey found that men liked their technology "toys" much more than women. In 37 of 44 countries, men held more favorable opinions of cell phones than women did. And while the majority of women in most countries said cell phones made life better, 2 out of 5 Japanese women and 1 in 3 British and Canadian women said cell phones have made life worse.

Copyright © 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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