The Real Problem Women Face When They Work Long Hours

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Happy Friday! We hope you make some time after work today to go out for a glass of wine or just watch Netflix in bed, because a recent study shows, once again, that the work-life balance looks grim for women: When we work long hours and put in unpaid hours at home, our health suffers.

Conducted by the Australian National University, the study found that thanks to the time many women spend on domestic work, our "healthy work-hours limit" at our jobs is only 34 hours a week compared to mens' 47 hours, reported Broadly. But most women with full-time jobs work a lot more, as research shows (and, let's face it, as we already know).

"Long work hours erode [people's] mental and physical health, because it leaves less time to eat well and look after themselves properly," writes Dr. Huong Dinh, the lead researcher. "Given the extra demands placed on women, it's impossible for women to work [the] long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health."

Women do a disproportionate amount of unpaid work, like cooking, cleaning, and picking up kids from school — an average of 4.5 hours a day — while men put in less than half that time, according to OECD data from 2016. And when we put in extra hours at work in addition to this "second shift," it puts us at a disadvantage in our careers (not to mention health-wise, as we already said).

In Australia, for example, men work an average of 41 hours a week to women's 36 — since they have fewer domestic responsibilities, they can afford to. Working more gives them a significant advantage in their careers. "But if we encourage women to try to attain those work hours, we're basically confronting women with a tradeoff between their health and gender equality," Professor Lyndall Strazdins told Broadly.

The solution, according to Prof. Strazdins — at least in Australia, though we suspect this would also work in the U.S. — lies with men working fewer hours. The research found 39 hours of work a week to be a "tipping point," leading to increased chances of mental-health problems including depression and anxiety.

"Until we can bring men's long hours down, it will lock women out of the workforce," she said. "We need to reward people who work closer to our official working week of 38 hours... It's going to be a slow and difficult process because it's a major social change."
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