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The Invisible Work of Women Thumbnail

The Invisible Work of Women

Last weekend my wife and I hosted a dinner for another married couple and their two young boys. For me, it's the holy grail of family friendships because all the sub-groups get along great: Our kids are buddies, our wives are longtime pals, and the husband and I enjoy each other's company. 

The night was delightful and easy for me. After a homemade meal, the kids played games, then curled up in front of a movie in the living room. Meanwhile, the wives soaked in the hot tub, and the other husband and I hung out in my "man cave," a casita in the backyard, where we discussed the mysteries of the universe over a few drinks.

It wasn't until the following day that my wife, Antoinette, not-so-gently educated me on how much work went into the evening. While we gentlemen nurtured our bromance and talked for hours, our spouses planned everything, completed the shopping, cooked the dinner, cleaned the dishes, and corralled the rambunctious boys from mealtime to playtime to movietime to buy us some quiet time. 

This lesson in marriage inequality was disquieting because I thought I was progressive on women's issues, and believed we shared household duties evenly.

However, a 2023 study by Pew Research suggests that I'm not alone in my ignorance. Their survey revealed that "mothers tend to say they do more than their spouse or partner, while fathers tend to say they share responsibilities about equally." [1]

Numerous studies also show that women carry the unequal burden of "invisible labor" at home, a problem that worsened during the pandemic. Think of all the small tasks that keep a household running efficiently, and how many of them are the responsibility of women. [2] 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in families where both parents work full-time and have a child under the age of 18, mothers spend nearly twice as much time as fathers providing care and assistance to family members. Women tend to help more with homework, scheduling, emotional support, and meeting their children's basic needs for food, clothing, medical visits, and much more. [3]

For example, I've never had to think about whether we have toilet paper in the house or if our son has clothes that fit each new season. Neither have I considered holiday gifts for teachers or coordinated anyone's schedule outside my own. The list of my wife's invisible work is endless, and her mental workload and accompanying stress are high.

Covid exacerbated this problem as women took on more household work when schools went online. As difficult as this physical workload is, the unequal mental workload women face is significant when trying to organize a household. And women often sacrifice their careers to fulfill these duties.

Research reported by Cornell University shows that "this disproportionate share of the mental workload is associated with a poorer sense of well-being for women and lower levels of satisfaction with their relationships." [4]

Many women feel like they are alone in their struggles, as their work is often not seen or acknowledged by others. This can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, which can ultimately harm relationships and family dynamics, as I'm discovering first-hand.

As a newly married man in middle-age, I finally understand the truth behind the cliche, "Happy wife, happy life."  

However, recognizing and valuing women's invisible work is important not only for the well-being of women but also for the economy as a whole. According to a report by the National Women's Law Center, women's unpaid work at home would be worth $10.8 trillion a year if paid at minimum wage. 

Antoinette's daily juggle is worth far more than minimum wage, so the Women's Law Center needs to adjust its figure upwards.

To celebrate Mother's Day this year, I am taking my wife to her favorite hot springs compound for several days of R&R. This will be her first Mother's Day not having to take care of anyone else, including me. 

As Antoinette consistently (and rightfully) reminds me, she is tired of the invisible labor she carries as a woman and mother. She would like me to step up my game. And this year, I hear her.


Doug Lynam is a partner at LongView Asset Management in Santa Fe and a former monk. He is the author of From Monk to Money Manager: A Former Monk’s Financial Guide to Becoming A Little Bit Wealthy — And Why That’s Okay. Contact him at douglas@longviewasset.com. 

The information contained herein is intended to be used for educational purposes only and is not exhaustive.  Diversification and/or any strategy that may be discussed does not guarantee against investment losses but is intended to help manage risk and return.  If applicable, historical discussions and/or opinions are not predictive of future events.  The content is presented in good faith and has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable.  The content is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice.  Please consult a legal, tax, or financial professional for information specific to your individual situation. This content not reviewed by FINRA
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash.


[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/01/24/gender-and-parenting/
[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evidence-based-living/202111/women-carry-most-the-mental-load-running-household
[3] https://www.bls.gov/tus/tables/a7-1519.htm#tus_tu_a7a.f.1
[4] https://evidencebasedliving.human.cornell.edu/blog/women-carry-most-of-the-mental-load-of-running-a-household/