A recent review study suggests that when women spend significantly more time on caregiving and housework–or unpaid labor–than men, women’s mental health suffers for it. (No shock here, to be honest—previous research has shown that being married doesn’t lessen a mother’s mental load.)

A report in “The Lancet Public Health” looked at 19 studies that had data from more than 70,000 working adults around the globe. Internationally, women spend an average of 3 to 6 hours per day caring for their families and homes outside of their employment—whereas men only pitch in 0.5 to 2 hours. In the US, women spend an average 4.5 hours doing unpaid work per day, compared with 2.8 hours for men, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Lancet report found that the more time women spent on unpaid work, the more they reported poorer mental health. That wasn’t true for men.

Related: Working on my mental health as a parent

Now, I don’t want to rag on men as a whole, because many of them do contribute. And let’s be honest, some men do take on more of the housework. (Same-sex couples may have a totally different dynamic, but that wasn’t reviewed here.)

But if you fit into this scenario, it’s important to heed the warnings that come with it. Study authors suggest doing too much unpaid labor could have a negative impact on your mental health and lead to burnout.

Let’s face it, mama: I know you already know this. So do we: Motherly’s 2023 State of Motherhood survey finds that 58% of moms are primarily responsible for the duties of running a household and caring for children, up 2% over 2022. Plus, the majority of moms report getting less than an hour to themselves each day.

How unpaid labor is hurting us

So does Eve Rodsky, a mom and author of “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (And More Life to Live).” She’s put together piles of research about overworked women. 

“We had over 200 women in our book research reporting physical and mental health symptoms if they ‘held more than 67 cards’ and worked full-time for pay,” Rodsky said. 

The top 5 issues women experienced were:

  • Hair loss
  • Hashimoto’s and autoimmune diseases
  • SSRI use
  • Gastrointestinal issues like constipation
  • Insomnia 

Also, many women said they self-medicated with two glasses of wine every night. (No judgment!)

Related: How burnout impacts me as a parent with depression

Why we compromise

“[Women] are conditioned to view their time as less valuable as men’s time,” Rodsky says. “When you believe your time is less valuable we begin convincing ourselves that it is our job to take on all the unpaid labor of the home.

As a result, men do tasks they can do when they want, like managing the money, which is generally less time-sensitive. But women do tasks where they have to forfeit their time, like picking up kids from school when they are sick, Rodsky explains. Men do more flexible chores like mowing the lawn, while women have more urgent tasks like grocery shopping and meal planning, and taking kids to doctor appointments.

Related: The mental load of feeding a family is heavy—and moms often carry it

Women also tend to take on what Rodsky calls “daily grinds” and “magic” tasks that require a lot of cognitive unpaid labor, like communicating with the in-laws, managing birthday party planning and playing the Tooth Fairy, she says. This is also unpaid labor.

Some of the top tasks that are affecting us include laundry, grocery shopping, meal planning, stocking the house, cleaning, doing dishes, taking out garbage/recycling, disciplining kids, managing kids’ screen time, making sure kids do homework. (I’d like to add preparing kids for the school day–I spend a ton of time doing this. For me, this includes prepping uniforms, packing lunches and communicating with teachers.) 

Related: Are you a burned out mom? Here’s how to tell, according to a psychologist

Again, I know that not every woman tackles everything on Rodsky’s list, but she’s found that those are the jobs we’re most often taking on.

Striving for balance

Rodsky believes that women whose male partners do more are not the norm. She invites them to “shout their stories from the rooftops,” especially if your partner is a guy.

“For women to step into their full power in the world it’s finally time for men to step into their full power in the home,” Rodsky adds.

So, how can you and your partner team up in a more fair way?

Rodsky has four rules:

  • Acknowledge that all time is created equal
  • Reclaim your right to be interesting
  • Begin making changes where you are now
  • Define your values and standards

Here’s what that may look like for you:

  • List out your chores, noting who’s been doing what (this could be pretty surprising, but it’s good for you to both see it all on paper)
  • Break down what’s urgent and not-as-urgent 
  • See if you can remove any (or delegate them to your children) 
  • Figure out which tasks you want to “own” 
  • Reassign the leftovers together (remember, you can alternate who does what, too)

If scrubbing the toilet and packing lunches is exhausting you (you’re not alone), speak up and ask your partner, another loved one (or even your older child) for help. There’s no authority that says you have to do it all, and it’s totally doable to do even just a little less. 

A version of this post was published December 5, 2022. It has been updated.

Featured experts

Eve Rodsky is the author of “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (And More Life to Live)”.


Erwin J, et al. Gender differences in the association between unpaid labour and mental health in employed adults: a systematic review. 2022; The Lancet Public Health. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(22)00160-8