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There’s an Invisible Workload That Drags Men Down, Too

Jan 05, 2017

Many of the men you know are suffering from anxiety. More than six million in the United States alone have depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Stress levels are on the rise, too. On a 10-point stress scale, the average man scores a 5, essentially closing a previous gap with women, the American Psychological Association found. Men die by suicide 3.5 times as often as women —more than 90 men a day. And the problem is global.

But few people realize the mental health struggles of men, because men are less likely than women to let on how stressed or anxious they’re feeling. And they’re less likely to seek help.

That’s why it was disappointing to see an article on Money.com last week which stated that men don’t worry enough.

Headlined “The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down,” the column b y Lisa Wade, a professor of sociology at Occidental College, argues that women are disproportionately burdened with the “mental work” of family life. The piece opens with the story of a woman who said she spends far more time than her husband worrying and noticing things the household needs.

“If that work were shared, women’s extra burdens would be lifted,” Wade wrote. “Only then will women have as much lightness of mind as men.”

The column was not designed to bash men. And it did note that men and women spend equal amounts of time doing a combination of paid and unpaid work. There’s no doubt it resonated with many readers.

Still, it was misguided to suggest that men have lightness of mind. Men have an invisible workload too, and it is weighing on them.

Mad Men-era work structures—both policies and stigmas—are taking a toll on all of us. The same obstacles making it tougher for women to advance in the workplace also make it tougher for men to have as much time with their families as they want and need. It’s a reality I know well, since my own legal battle against CNN/Time Warner for fair parental leave attracted global attention.

For my book All In, I tracked how the stresses of work and family are affecting fathers—the most misunderstood part of the modern family. One study I cited from the Families and Work Institute found that men suffer from work-life conflict even more than women do.

I did more than 150 hours of interviews with fathers from different walks of life. I asked them how “stretched out” they feel on a scale of 1 to 10. Virtually all said 10; two said eight.

In many cases, the concerns are financial. Dads are still the vast majority of primary or sole breadwinners, shouldering hefty financial burdens.

I also shared my own story of having lost sleep worrying about taking care of my family. After the book came out, men all over the world started sharing their experiences with me.

Why don’t they ask for help?

"In our society, as men, we learn to see this as a weakness,” says Dr. Shervin Assari of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “Hegemonic masculinity is a barrier to seek care and talk about emotions.” His research, published in May, found that men are more likely to have their stress lead to depression in the long term.

Wade cites one tiny, outdated study from 1996 that included 23 couples. But today, dads are doing more than ever. Men are 43% of primary shoppers for their families. And there’s no evidence to suggest they need their wives to tell them what to buy. In fact, men often choose different products and brands, a study found.

Men may think less about certain household needs, but more about others.

The APA found, for example, that slightly more men than women are stressed about work and money. And while only 33% of women are successful in their efforts to get enough sleep, only 25% of men are.

It’s quite possible that women spend more time worrying in general. Researchers cite both cultural and biological reasons. But the suggestion that there’s a finite amount of “mental work” to be done, and that men aren’t doing their fair share, is mistaken.

Today’s mothers and fathers are stressed. Stress doesn’t discriminate. The solution isn’t for men to worry more. It’s for couples to discuss their worries and support each other.

Also, backward perceptions of the roles of men and women at home are a major factor holding back women’s advancement in the workplace. Many executives believe the false stereotype that moms run the home and dads are lazy. These executives oppose paternity leave and flexible schedules for men, thinking that any guy will just kick up his feet and wait for his wife to get home to do all the real work. Men who take paternity leave or seek flexible schedules are often fired or demoted for the same reason.

This pressure keeps dads at work more, which leaves families with no choice but for the moms to stay home. It’s a vicious, sexist cycle.

All women who notice and keep track of their families’ many needs deserve big props and respect for it. So do the men who do this work. It’s crucial, detail-oriented, and never-ending. It makes a home a home.

For 2017, let’s resolve to put aside misguided gender assumptions and work together to achieve a better balance and healthy work-life integration—for the sake of women and men.

Josh Levs is the author of All in: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses–And How We Can Fix It Together. Find him on Twitter at @JoshLevs.

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