Within the last half century, the number of women participating in the workforce has increased exponentially. Women are gaining more and more equality in the social, economic and political affairs, but gender inequity within the home regarding the division of household labor remains. Women are still primarily responsible for housework and childcare. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s concept of the “second shift” describes the situation of many women today. The “second shift” refers to all the chores and tasks that women are expected to complete concerning maintenance of the home and childcare after they have completed their shifts at work. Much attention has been focused on the gender division of household labor by sociologists and feminists academics, but the emotional and psychological effects of the “second shift” on working mothers have been covered to a lesser extent. Drawing on my personal experiences, I predicted that women who are not able to devote the time, effort and monetary resources needed to fulfill the responsibilities of home maintenance and childcare that they are expected as women, wives, and mothers to satisfy suffer from stress and feelings of failure for not living up to the standards of womanhood and motherhood that American society demands. To test this prediction, I conducted an exploratory survey of 34 working and non-working mothers to determine the time they spend on housework and at work, their attitudes towards housework, and their top sources of stress. The results of this survey have provided valuable insights into role strain, or role stress, that working wives and mothers experience from their conflicting roles as workers, wives and mothers, and the negative attitudes towards housework, the stress, distress and decline in emotional and physical well-being that arise out of this role stress.
“I don’t know of a working mother who can balance a career, children and a marriage. One of these has to give.”
- Nina Tanagawa, a working wife and mother interviewed by Arlie Russell Hochschild in The Second Shift
The number of women employed outside of the home has increased drastically over the last century and yet studies have shown that overwhelmingly it is women who continue to do the majority of household chores. A significant source on the prevalence and impact of this phenomenon is The Second Shift, a book written by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in 1989. Although more than nineteen years have passed since this book was published, it applies well to the situation many working mothers find themselves in today as inequality within the housework between male and female parents and partners remains a major social issue. Hochschild found that even in dual-earner households (where both parents work for pay outside of the home), women worked an average of fifteen hours per week more than men performing housework and childcare. According to this statistic, the average working mother in 1989 worked an extra month of twenty-four hour days (Hochschild 1989:3). A more recent study found that women spend on average of 27 hours per week doing housework, compared to men’s average of 11 hours (“Housework Fairness?” 2005). Hochschild labeled this large amount of time spent by women on housework and childcare after returning from work each day as their “second shift” (4).
Even though women are slowly gaining equality with men in the workplace, there remains much gender inequality in the division of labor within the home. The imaginaries of the “happy housewife” (a dedicated and doting wife and mother) and the “supermom” (the working mother who can “do it all,” raise well-adjusted children, succeed in her career, cook and clean with expertise, maintain a satisfying relationship with her husband/partner, and still look beautiful) have strong influences on the division of household labor within modern families (Hochschild 1990:1)....