Modern women are often lauded for breaking barriers and achieving parity in many areas of life. However, beneath the surface, a lingering disparity persists, dubbed as the “mental load” or “charge mentale” in French. Here’s what you need to know.

A Historical Perspective

Since the 20th century, women have been steadily claiming their rights, moving beyond the roles of simply wives and homemakers to accessing education and joining the workforce. Yet, even after decades of progress, women still grapple with gender equality in professional realms. Factors such as hiring discrimination, workplace sexism, the infamous glass ceiling, and lack of parity only scratch the surface of deep-seated disparities. Still nowadays in France, men earn 23% more than women, and many women find themselves in involuntary part-time jobs, compared to men.

From Professional Inequality to Domestic Inequality

It’s perplexing that women, often more educated than their male counterparts, make professional choices that put them at a disadvantage. Could the root of such inequalities be traced back to the private sphere?

For example in France women dedicate an average of 4 hours daily to domestic tasks – a drop of an hour since the 1990s. Meanwhile, men’s contributions have remained stagnant at 2 hours daily for the past 30+ years. Such imbalance doesn’t just translate to extra household chores for women, but a significant mental load. This cognitive burden doesn’t only add to professional responsibilities; it significantly overlaps, influencing women’s work choices and behaviours, ultimately widening the gender gap in the workplace.

Defining the Mental Load

Mental load, as described by researcher Nicole Brais, is an intangible, constant, and essential “task of management, organization, and planning” aimed at ensuring the household’s smooth running. This doesn’t merely denote the physical execution of chores but the cognitive aspect linked to their management. The issue? This mental load is predominantly shouldered by women, exacerbating gender inequalities in the professional world.

The Impact on Women’s Well-being

Beyond its professional implications, mental load also compromises women’s overall well-being. Research by Flèche, Lepinteur, and Powdthavee revealed that women working longer hours than their partners are generally less content. They experience reduced satisfaction in familial and marital life and endure heightened stress.

The reason? It predominantly stems from an unfair division of domestic tasks. Evidently, when partners contribute more at home, working women handle the balance better. Hence, the dissatisfaction isn’t merely about longer work hours but primarily due to the unequal distribution of household responsibilities.

Social Norms and Their Consequences

Persistent gender stereotypes, both at home and work, continue to challenge women. Social norms often dictate that a woman should earn less than her husband. Consequently, many women reduce their working hours or even quit when they out-earn their partners, even when their male counterparts remain indifferent.

Such findings suggest that the imbalance in household tasks mainly drives women’s aversion to working longer than their partners. It’s not just about societal expectations, but the ramifications of these stereotypical behaviours that amplify the mental load and hamper women’s well-being.

Sharing the Mental Load

One solution could be outsourcing domestic tasks, which might alleviate some of the mental load. However, the core issue stems from deeply ingrained social norms assigning gender-based roles. Though women have progressed, societal expectations tied to household management haven’t kept pace.

Hence, genuine change requires altering gender roles from early childhood. Public policies reversing gender stereotypes are crucial. For instance, extending paternity leaves can be more impactful once societal mindsets evolve. The goal? Ensuring both genders harmoniously balance professional and family lives.

Tackling the Mental Load Through Coaching

In navigating the complex landscapes of personal and professional expectations, the mental load carried by many modern women can become overwhelming. This weight often goes unrecognized, hidden beneath layers of societal norms and internalized roles. However, addressing this challenge directly can lead to transformative change and a more balanced life.

When you choose to engage in coaching with me, we embark on a journey together to:

  • Identify and Understand: Before tackling the mental load, it’s essential to understand its depth and breadth. Through our sessions, we’ll dig deep to uncover the tasks, expectations, and pressures that contribute to your mental load.
  • Prioritize and Delegate: Not all tasks hold equal importance. We’ll work on establishing clear priorities, which can help in determining what tasks can be let go, delegated, or shared with partners, family members, or even professional services.
  • Develop Emotional Resilience: Emotional resilience is crucial in managing stress and achieving work-life harmony. We’ll focus on strategies that build resilience, helping you handle challenges with grace and confidence.
  • Challenge Societal Norms: Sometimes, societal expectations and norms contribute significantly to the mental load. Together, we’ll address these head-on, discerning which norms align with your values and which ones might be holding you back.
  • Craft Personalized Strategies: Every individual’s experience with mental load is unique, which is why our coaching will centre around strategies tailored to your specific circumstances and goals.

Mental load, though pervasive, doesn’t have to dictate the course of your life. With the right tools, awareness, and guidance, you can navigate and manage this load, creating space for greater joy, fulfilment, and balance.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Sophie


Inspired by:

Fleche S, Lepinteur A., Powdthavee N., 2018, “Gender Norms and Relative Working Hours: Why Do Women Suffer More Than Men from Working Longer Hours Than Their Partners?” AEA Papers and Proceedings, 108, 163-68.