Women Who Perform Paid, Unpaid Labor May Have Worse Mental Health Outcomes

There may be a negative mental health burden on women who do unpaid work at home while also working a paid job.

Women may have worse mental health outcomes if they work a paid job while also performing unpaid labor at home, based on the results of a study conducted by investigators from the University of Melbourne, Australia. According to the study, men did not show the same mental health outcomes.

This was the first study to connect and evaluate existing evidence that looked at the relationship between gender, unpaid labor, and mental health. The team observed a mental health cost on women who perform unpaid labor—which is an addition to the already high economic cost of working without pay.

"We found substantial gender differences in exposure to unpaid labour, with women uniformly doing more in every geographical and time setting—in more than 35 countries—around the world," said the study lead Jen Ervin, a PhD candidate within The Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in a press release.

The researchers identified 14 completed studies to use as the base for their analysis. Among the studies, which included more than 66,000 participants around the world, 5 analyzed unpaid labor. The other 9 studies looked at the time women spent on housework, with an additional 4 studies evaluating the impact of childcare.

The researchers identified a possible association between the cost of mental health and workload demand. In more than 75% of the studies, women self-reported increasing levels of depressive or psychological distress symptoms as their unpaid labor demands increased.

This was 3 times higher than the rate among men. In the 12 studies which looked at men, only 25% of respondents reported a negative association between mental health outcome and increasing unpaid labor demands.

"This double burden of paid and unpaid work exposes women to greater risk for overload, time poverty, and poorer mental health,” Ervin said in the press release.

The lead researcher added that women disproportionally traded paid work hours to meet unpaid labor responsibilities, highlighting that there is a need to create a more equitable division of unpaid labor through attention and meaningful action.

Further, Ervin suggests that social change can happen with policy change. These policies could include universal childcare or normalizing a flexible working arrangement for men.

She and her colleagues found that their review of existing studies which looked at gender, unpaid labor, and mental health highlight a need for more high-quality and longitudinal research—this could help to better understand the nuances around how unpaid labor is defined and measured.

"There is an undeniable mental load that accompanies unpaid labour and family responsibilities," Ervin said in the press release. “Reducing the disproportionate unpaid labour burden on women, by enabling men to take on their equal share, has the potential to improve women's mental health

Reference

University of Melbourne. Double burden of paid and unpaid labor leading to poorer mental health in women, review finds. Science Daily. September 1, 2022. Accessed on September 13, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220831210017.htm

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