Women’s mental health is suffering because of the ‘double burden’ of employment and unpaid work around the house, a new study suggests.

Doing the lion’s share of household chores and care is taking its toll on women’s mental wellbeing, while the effects of unpaid work on mental health is less apparent in men.

Now researchers are calling for ways to ensure the division of labour is equal, to improve employed women’s mental health.

Research lead Jen Ervin said: “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.

“This double burden of paid and unpaid work exposures women to greater risk for overload, time poverty and poorer mental health. Crucially, women are also routinely trading off paid work hours to meet their disproportionally high unpaid labour responsibilities.”

In the first research of its kind, the team from the University of Melbourne carried out a review of 14 studies involving 66,800 people worldwide which examined the gendered association between unpaid chores and mental wellbeing.

In 11 of the 14 studies, women reported feeling depressed or experiencing psychological distress symptoms as the unpaid labour demands on them increased. Only three studies found a similar link in men.

Ms Ervin said: “There is an undeniable mental load that accompanies unpaid labour and family responsibilities. 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.”
The team called for changes in policy, including universal childcare and flexible working for men.

The study has been published in The Lancet Public Health.

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