The costs of thinking about work and family: Mental labor, work-family spillover, and gender inequality among parents in dual-earner families

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Abstract

One of the aspects unaccounted for in previous assessments of employed parents 'distribution of time is the mental dimension of tasks and demands. This aspect, referred to as mental labor, is conceptualized as the planning, organization, and management of everyday activities. Using the experience sampling method, a unique form of time diary, and survey data from the 500 Family Study (N = 402 mothers with 16,451 signals and 291 fathers with 11,322 signals), this study examined the prevalence, context, and emotional correlates of mental labor among parents in dual-earner families. Results show that fathers reported thinking more frequently about job-related matters than mothers but these concerns did not spill over into unpaid work. By contrast, mothers' job-related thoughts tended to spill over into unpaid work and free-time activities. When engaging in mental labor, mothers and fathers were equally likely to think about family matters, but these thoughts were only detrimental to emotional well-being in mothers. Among both mothers and fathers, paid work was relatively insulated from thoughts about family matters. Overall, findings highlight mothers' double burden and suggest that mental labor may contribute to mothers' emotional stress and gender inequality among dual-earner families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)916-936
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Forum
Volume29
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Eastern Sociological Society.

Keywords

  • Dual-earner families
  • Experience sampling method
  • Mental labor
  • Time distribution
  • Well-being
  • Work-family interface

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