The Secret Stress of the Second Shift

Historically, society in Ireland, and globally, was a patriarchal one in which men performed in the workplace and prevailed in their typically clichéd breadwinner role and women in their expected roles of remaining in the home, bearing and raising children and maintaining housekeeping duties.  Marmot and Wilkinson argue that while women have gained almost equilibrium status in terms of education and admittance to the work force, the deeply rooted gender roles remain reflected in the division of household labour.  This is mirrored on both sides; men have certainly developed in terms of their hands-on involvement with their children and in aiding in household duties, however, it remains minimal.  

The definition of the “second shift” as outlined by Hochschild and Machung, 2003, is determined as the workload an responsibility in the home women do alongside a forty-hour working week and typically involves childcare and housework.  This phenomenon has led to sleep-deprived, stressed parents that, as a consequence, has led to marital stress.  Of fifty women who were interviewed, a common theme among them was one of feeling like a single parent.  There is also an underlying tension in this regard as a lack of social arrangements for easing life due to men sharing less of the second shift than their female counterparts.  This, in turn, invokes a struggle over the giving and receiving of gratitude in the relations.  The interviews also revealed than men appear to resist household chores or praise their wife’s efforts in a psychological attempt to encourage their continued participation or complete the work inadequately to discourage their spouse from requesting their help.  Women remain the primary caregivers to their children.  If a child is ill at school, it is typically the mother who is called and women also remain the producers of most household chores including food preparation and cleaning.  This raises the inequality issue.

Labour inequality in terms of employment means that women generally hold positions that are more precarious than their male counterparts contributing to the idea that there exists a difference of value between men and women in the workforce.   There remains the belief in feminist circles that to be a stay-at-home-mother is determining a women dependent and vulnerable to her partner.  

And women, while they have entered the workforce, adhere to the second shift role and remain the primary care providers for children and household management.  Is it a matter of arrogance on women’s part in terms of inherently not trusting their male counterparts to keep their children alive?  Or is it that they just wanted the aforementioned employment freedoms and were so focused on obtaining them that they did not plan effectively for what would happen if and when they did?   Or, was it in the power of men; who let women believe they were giving them something empowering while they had ulterior motives in terms of fiscal tax benefits and they had never planned on taking on any extra familial duties in exchange for that?  According to Marmot and Wilkinson, 2005, it is evident that men engage in more effort in paid employment while women work hard for paid labour but value the effort of the so called second shift more greatly.   There are health implications regarding this second shift syndrome.  

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A study conducted by the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Fredrick, 2003, found that 80% of illness can be directly related, caused, or worsened by stress, and that the addition of the second shift in someone’s life can heighten stress levels.  Other studies have shown that men and women; particularly women, that have to deal with a second shift are one and a half times more likely to have to take days off work to deal with health issues.  Men and women in these situations have also been more likely to be faced with psychological stress and see themselves as unhealthier than their colleagues who are not in the same predicament.  The second shift effects things such as mortality rates, absence from work, loss of sleep, work intensity and economic effects.  It has left women undergoing so many responsibilities in and out of the workplace and has created ‘Superwoman Syndrome’.  These women assume the role of a ‘superwoman’ whereby they are trying to complete all these roles at once with no real break.  By assuming this role, the woman is allowing no break for themselves which impacts on them through stress levels, lack of sleep and therefore, to an extent, a degree of unhappiness.  There needs to be drastic changes in this because the stress levels for women undertaking this role are detrimental to their health.  Major changes need to be made in this regard as people’s health will only get worse if it continues.

The second shift is evidently causing huge stress for mothers of all ages but many of us don’t really understand the degree of their stress and how it is not alone in affecting the family and one’s own work but the biggest victim; the working mother.  Recently, this has become a larger area of investigation by many family and personal health agencies, the one which has the most shocking results is a 2014 survey by care.com which concluded that one quarter of working mother’s cry every week due to the stress of their double days between payed work and house work.  This stress is linked with the standards that society place on the mother to be a caregiver alone and the father to be the main earner.  The change in earnings has not translated to a change in household work. The shocking results of this survey shows the harsh reality for working mothers and the true effects of the second shift.  This stress naturally doesn’t dissipate at the door of work and is correlated with the loss of three hundred  billion US dollars to American companies every year.  This is due to mother’s stress leading them to take more health related days off along with lack of productivity in the work place.  (care.com, 2014)

The inequality women face when it comes to the division of household labour is evident, and is not changing fast enough.  Finding a resolution to the issue is crucial to reduce the stress women face daily when they return home from work and start this second shift.  To solve this, global initiatives should be put in place by means of flexibility in the workplace; better and more affordable childcare provision; by the government having extended parental leave or by the workplace accommodating those who would prefer shorter days but longer weeks.  One thing is clear, more education is required at a younger age to alleviate this issue because while times have changed and women are working, the inequalities and health implications that arise from the second shift remain prevalent in Irish and most western societies. (Himmelweit, 2011)

As Conway, 2003 stresses, although the health problems surrounding the extra burden of work involved with the second shift are largely glossed over and ignored in many modern societies there are certainly groups that have put initiatives in place in an attempt to combat it; it is primarily the Nordic countries that excel in these initiatives.  These include things such as, parental leave subsidies, flexible work hours, offers of part time work, child care subsidies, as well as job sharing opportunities.  For example, in places such as Iceland the nine-month parental leave is split into thirds.  The first third of the leave is to be used by the mother, the second third is in place for the father and the final third can be optionally used by either parent to use in a way they see fit.  An 80% reimbursement of salary is also put in place for this time period.  These initiatives have been incredibly helpful in the early stages of parental life, a time period which is important in the development of the child and incredibly vital in the health of the mother.  Perhaps there is a valid case for many other current governments taking a leaf out of the Icelandic book.  (European Commission, 2008)

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Joy Boucher, Deborah Jordan, Kevin Mellott, Sean Parry, Aine Kerrisk

 

Bibliography

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