I’ve been agonizing over how to respond to an email in the last 48 hours.
It doesn’t involve a medical issue, a work deadline, some scary news, a back-to-school task that requires exposing a scary poster maker or logging into a Byzantine online portal – all represented in the full force of my inbox. Just a totally lodging proposal, from a fellow college friend who’s eager to talk about a project she’s working on, and I’m excited to meet him.
“Would you like to try for happy hour next week?”
I mean yes. I’d like to. Me, Martini, some non-stretch pants outside at dusk? Valhalla.
But then my brain fails, because my happy hour of the past six years—which, yes, happy, but also messy—involves scraping my Baba Ganoush’s hair, shoveling salmon in my three-year-old’s mouth sitting under a table methodically sticking to the floor , and listens to the appropriate military soundtrack by Strauss-Radetzky-Marsh, courtesy of the piano-practicing first-grader.
So, instead of saying surely, I’ve spent the past few days doing mental exercises, including but not limited to thinking about whether my husband’s week of commuting for the next work would allow me to make up for a week of responsibilities other than bedtime and showering; If it’s a good time to steal first aid and start saying yes to insignificant social events; If non-critical social events may lead to important and decisive developments in the business; If this time would be best spent sorting hand-delivered baby clothes into piles that take into account the size and seasonal preferences of the various younger cousins; Or if Mom’s schedule might allow her to come in to be an extra set of hands. And you wonder why I wake up in the middle of the night, so freaking out is all I can do to stop getting out of bed to get breakfast with the moonlight, just to tick one thing off my list.
“Time is a source of health,” Jennifer Ervin told me. “There is a double burden on a lot of women – having a paying job and then, once that job is done, massive amounts of unpaid work in the morning and evening.”
Irvin is the lead researcher on a University of Melbourne graduate study, published in The Lancet earlier this month, titled “Gender Differences in the Association between Unpaid Work and Mental Health in Working Adults: A Systematic Review,” believed to be the first of its kind to examine intersectionality. Gender is between the three areas — work, home, and mental health — that happen to make up the bulk of my day-to-day concerns.
After reviewing 14 studies — some examining housework time, others childcare, and others unpaid — the Ervin report concluded that “the inequality in the division of unpaid work puts women at greater risk of poor mental health than men,” as a result “that Role conflict and excessive role burden, which leads to stress-related pathways and thus can affect psychological well-being.”
The more urgency you have, the more time pressure you have, and the more tasks you do simultaneously, the more likely you are to experience stress. One study Ervin noted that “impulsiveness is associated with being a woman, single parenting, disability, lack of control, and conflicts between work and family.” Haste is associated with being a woman. sigh.
“Unpaid work” as a concept has been studied in the social literature for some time, usually through the lens of gender equity, or participation in the workplace. 2018 American Time Use Survey It found that women between the ages of 25 and 34 spend eight hours a day in unpaid work, compared to 3.9 hours for men. (For ages 35 to 44, this rises to a whopping 5.2 for men and a whopping 8.8 for women.) But only recently, Ervin tells me, have researchers begun examining it as a social determinant of health.
Contribute to Covid High anxiety and tension Worldwide, the American Psychological Association Clear “A national health crisis that could have serious health and social consequences for years to come” in America. How are the mental parts of my brain affected by the constant, slightly distorted chatter on my to-do list, and how can I complete it efficiently?
I know that when I fill out permission slips, make sure we get milk, make doctor’s appointments, do the laundry, it’s all “unpaid work.” But the term’s vague designation makes it—to borrow from the famous Supreme Court case—a bit like porn: You know it when you see it. While my precaution about an email response isn’t necessarily the same as doing a laundry load, it’s not entirely different either. Irvin told me that as a result of that unpaid work, and a form of it, it is one of the challenges of studying the subject.
“The mental burden, whether it falls under the umbrella of unpaid work or not – and many people would agree that it does – is very difficult to bear,” she said. “How do you measure what’s going on in someone’s brain? When they are on zoom in and out and they get a call from their children’s school and are thinking about what they should do later that night?”
One of the most accurate points of the study was that “Women carry a greater mental burden from domestic work. Therefore, an unpaid hour is more intense and impactful for women than for men, and therefore may not be directly comparable.” The researchers hypothesize that this is partly why unpaid work is less likely to deteriorate men’s mental health, which in turn may be due to the type of tasks men do more often. While I appreciate the researchers’ suggestion that “outdoors or maintenance” tasks might fall into this bucket of less time-sensitive, and perhaps more enjoyable, unpaid work, my husband, a tech guy, is just as likely to pick up a torch or a screwdriver as he is. is to automatically start writing Chaucer from memory. But I take their point of view. And that mental burden—the constant, invisible, maliciously seeping into most of our waking and sleeping hours—is something Ervin, herself, struggles with in her home, where she and her husband are raising two daughters.
“I have a husband who is especially equal in his views, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into everyday life,” she said, speaking of what would be a headline for nearly every conversation I have with my girlfriends. “And it’s really hard to change the disc at the individual family level.” I wondered, how could I force my husband to join me in the trenches thinking so anxiously about marking a preschool change of clothes for school until this job was done?
She firmly believes that the better the parental leave policies in a particular country, the more impactful and positive the cascading effects are, because if a father takes care of a child from an early age, it paves the way for more care later on. Norway, a country that dedicates 49 weeks of parental leave to families, with 15 weeks allotted to each parent in a “use it or lose it” model, is a country to emulate, although Ervin isn’t particularly optimistic that the rest of the world will catch up anytime almost. This is partly why she feels it is key to the research and publication of the study.
Fifty percent of the population will go, ‘Well, that’s not news to anyone.’,“It’s a living experience for people, sure, but showing it at the population level is important.” Only then 50% of the other population might engage in actively rethinking workplace flexibility, parental leave and other family-friendly policies.
After a few more days of cordoning off and replying, I said yes to meeting Happy Hour. It’ll be 4pm, might have a cup of coffee instead of a martini, and I’ll be back in time to pick up my family’s happy hour half. But I look forward to it.
And we have to stumble.