Meet Invisible labour!! A must read for all women.

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Women at Work

Being a house wife or mother is no small task; and in today’s world where women take active part in going for work and earning income for the family, it is to be necessarily quantified as to how much strain and effort is being put by each women for their household – and the efforts at household maybe more than what meets the eye – Meet invisible labour!!

What is invisible labour? Other than the perceivable chores in a household (which again falls mostly on women itself), there are a lot of responsibilities that a women and moreover a mother should take care of – invisible labour mostly comes in the form of responsibilities and accountability.

Knowing the daily whereabouts and activities of the children, Buying a bigger pair of pants before a child outgrows, the need of being aware of what is to be stocked in the pantry and even the responsibility of a jar of unopened pickle are all examples of invisible labour.  In short, these caregiving tasks require mental and emotional effort and are examples of the invisible labour women contribute for their families. 

Invisible labour is no new discovery but has been under the lifestyle researchers’ magnifying lens for quite a time now. And it is without doubt proven that these responsibilities have a solid impact on the well-being of a mother and women in a household. 

Researchers from Arizona State University and Oklahoma State University examined how invisible labour impacted the well-being of women and found that it can indeed do a negative impact.

The Study on general terms finds that women who feel overly responsible for household management and parenting are less satisfied with their lives and partnerships. Feeling solely responsible for the household and the children, decreased their satisfaction with their lives in general and those with their partners.

"Until recently, no one stopped to think about mom herself," said Suniya Luthar, Foundation Professor of psychology at ASU and senior author on the study. "We need to attend to the well-being of moms if we want children to do well, and also for their own sakes."

The Study: Quantifying the invisible

To quantify invisible labour, the researchers decided in the first part to study how the management of a household was shared among partners and secondly, how the division of labour affected women's well-being.

The researchers thus surveyed 393 American women with children under age 18. The included women were mostly from middle or upper class homes who were highly educated, with over 70% of them having at least a college education.

The division of household labour  was measured by asking questions about who was in charge of the following three sets of tasks: 

  • organizing the family's schedules, 
  • fostering children's well-being, and 
  • making major financial decisions. 

On the basis of the above results, next the researchers looked at how these tasks affected the women's satisfaction with their partners and their satisfaction with overall life. The team also looked how invisible labour was linked to feelings of being overwhelmed or emptiness in the women's day-to-day lives.

RESULTS: A mother's work is never done!

In the case of fixing the family schedules, almost 9 in 10 women answered they felt solely responsible for organizing the schedules!! Do note that 65% of these women were employed!!

Again, at least 7 in 10 women answered they were also responsible for other areas of family routines like maintaining standards for schedules and assigning various chores to various members of the family.

When it came to being responsible for the well-being and emotional states of their children, a large percentage of the women felt that it was mostly they alone who were responsible and vigilant. 80 percent answered they were the one who knew their children's school teachers and other details, and two thirds noted that it was they who were attentive to the children's emotional requiremnts. 

On the brighter side, the responsibility of instilling values in children came out to be a shared responsibility in most cases. Only a quarter said they were solely responsible while 72% said that it was generally shared equally with their partners.

And the effect?

The women who indicated they were in charge of the household reported that they had little time for themselves and felt overwhelmed and exhausted with their role as parents.

A women's distress showed strong links with the invisible labour of ensuring the well-being of children. This category also clearly predicted feelings of emptiness in the women. Feeling entirely responsible for it gave them low satisfaction levels about life overall and with their marriage life.

"Research in developmental science indicates that mothers are first responders to kids' distress," Luthar said. "That is a very weighty job; it can be terrifying that you're making decisions, flying solo, that might actually worsen rather than improve things for your children's happiness."

Fixing this unequal burden – important for Children

Experts on resilience in children have always agreed that the most important protection for kids under stress is the well-being of their primary supporter in the family, which is most commonly the mother. 

Mothers in turn, must feel nurtured and cared for if they are to look after their children with good mental health and positive parenting behaviours. When women feel extra responsible for the invisible labour of running a household and raising children in addition to going to work, it can negatively impact their overall well-being.

Being able to solve the inequalities in invisible labour can allow women and families to create more functional and less burdensome households, notes one of the researcher. 

"Even though women may be physically doing fewer loads of laundry, they continue to hold the responsibility for making sure the detergent does not run out, all the dirty clothes make it into the wash and that there are always clean towels available," said Lucia Ciciolla, assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University and first author on the study. "Women are beginning to recognize they still hold the mental burden of the household even if others share in the physical work, and that this mental burden can take a toll."

Though men nowadays participate more in housework and childcare than in the past, it is women who still manage the household, even if they are employed. This unequal burden can certainly affect the mental health of women.

In addition to addressing the issue about invisible labour, the researchers emphasized that the mothers must maintain dependable, authentic connections with others who are supportive – like friends or relatives who are mothers. Regular support groups with mothers in the workplace can certainly lead to reduction in distress and control the stress hormone cortisol.

Story Source:

Based on research by Arizona State University.