Home Household chores Imbalance in household chores still exists and creates mental load

Imbalance in household chores still exists and creates mental load


It’s no secret that compared to men, women do more household chores: around three hours more every day, according to a global survey. Among mixed couples, women will bear the brunt of household chores, including cases where both partners have full-time jobs and even if the woman works longer hours. And in households that achieve a good balance, men are more likely to make more pleasant choressuch as gardening or entertaining the children.

But what’s less well documented is how this imbalance creeps into our inner world – the unseen tension sociologists call mental load, or the cognitive and emotional strain that comes with being alone. family administrator. (In other words, the person who takes responsibility for noticing problems, delegating tasks and managing emotions.) According to Leah Ruppanner, a sociologist at the University of Melbourne, it differs from cognitive work by carrying a weight emotional. It’s more than planning and making plans, it’s the background anxiety of being expected to micro-manage everything and keep people happy.

Once you know the Mental Load, it’s easy to spot. It’s there, for example, when the dad drops his kids off at a birthday party but still expects his partner to buy and wrap presents, then remind him what time to pick them up. Or when men take responsibility for laundry, but forget to buy laundry or prepare clean towels for guests.

A matter of gender

Mental load is an internal process, which makes it invisible and essentially limitless, Ruppanner explains. “You don’t bring your dishes to work. But you take on a mental load wherever you go,” she adds. This can impact productivity and prevent women from providing the physical or mental labor required for promotions and salary increases. The endless cognitive effort could even lead to insomnia or mental health issues.

The reason it’s generally the responsibility of women to do these things isn’t because women are naturally better at planning, delegating, or multitasking; studies prove that men are just as capable. Women are simply expected to do more and they are judged more harshly when things go wrong.

In a 2019 study, participants received a photograph of a messy house: dishes cluttering the dining table, blankets strewn on the floor, chairs untidy. When participants were told the house belonged to Jennifer, they rated the house dirtier and its occupant as having lower moral character than when they believed someone called John lived there. For some of us, a dirty house suggests depravity when owned by a woman, but can be seen as a harmless mess when attributed to a man.

Load reduction

In his book The maternity complex, journalist Melissa Hogenboom describes how, having taken more time off after the birth of their first child, she naturally did the mental labor necessary for childcare. When she returned to work, she carried the burden because there was no “handover” of these unseen tasks. She couldn’t just leave her role as project manager for the afternoon.

To make the invisible visible, sociologists have proposed talking openly about internal work so that all work, both physical and mental, can be distributed more equitably. Rather than assigning each other individual tasks, for example, both partners could take on entire areas of responsibility, co-managing family life. Another option is for women to simply do less, Ruppanner says. It may be painful at first, but in the long run it might help some men appreciate the behind-the-scenes preparation that previously went unnoticed.

Changes in the workplace, including remote or flexible working, can ease worries about childcare during work hours, improve employee well-being and boost productivity, Ruppanner says. Policy changes on childcare allowance and paternity leave could also help: men who take more paternity leave take on more responsibilities once both parents are back at work, according to a 2008 study analyzing parental leave in Sweden.

At the societal level, we need to start quantify mental load the same way we measure unpaid physical labor, Ruppanner says. She suggests extending national statistical surveys to ask respondents about the time devoted to the organization of family life. Reliable data on how long people are engaged in emotional burden, its impact on physical and mental health, and how the burden is shared between non-heterosexual couples will help policy makers make informed decisions and discard the basis for future changes.