The 'Burn Out Gap' Disproportionately Affects Women — Here's How

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Kayla Heisler1.16k
April 14, 2024 at 7:51AM UTC

A study led by researchers at the University College of London revealed that working long hours impacted the mental health of men and women disproportionately. The longitudinal study showed that working long hours led to a significant increase of depressive symptoms for women. For men, however, even those working the longest hours did not experience an increase of depressive symptoms. 

Over the last 40 years, Americans have drastically increased the amount of time that they spend working. According to a Current Population Survey analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, Americans work an average of 1,836 hours each year. 

Many factors have led to the significant increase in the number of hours Americans now work. As the economy has become more competitive and globalized, employees are expected to dedicate more hours of their lives to work in order to keep up. Advancements in technology such as the creation of email, video conferencing, and Slack have also increased the expectation for people to work around the clock. 

Women are disproportionately affected by this increase in hours in more ways than one. On top of depressive symptoms, many women feel the effects of long hours on the longevity of their careers in a way that men don't. A Harvard Business School study examined an unnamed consulting firm where 90 percent of partners were men. Though men in the study were as likely as women to say that working long hours negatively impacted their family lives, women were more likely to stall their careers by taking on less challenging roles or cutting back hours to better accommodate their familial responsibilities. 

Having policies in place such as flexible work hours provide opportunities for all employees to step back and spend more time with their families. But because women are still expected to handle the majority of domestic and care-taking responsibilities, men are less likely to take advantage of these accommodations and more likely to be promoted. Because of these expectations, refusing to take time off to attend to personal matters is more likely to cause feelings of stress or guilt in women than it is in men.

Though organizations are taking steps to improve work-life balance, progress will only happen when the unfair expectation that women should manage the home is lifted. That's a societal change we all must be part of.

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Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.

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