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What Does "Double Burden" Mean?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The term “double burden” is used in the business community to describe the need to balance paid work outside the home with domestic labor. Caring for children and performing other tasks at home is sometimes known as the second shift, a reference to a famous book written by Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist interested in the phenomenon. Conflicts between work and home can create tensions that make it difficult to achieve a work-life balance as people pursue professional careers and attempt to keep up with domestic obligations.

Some of the research on the double burden has come from a feminist perspective, as women tend to be more prone to being caught in this trap. In relationships where both partners work, it is common for more household labor to be assigned to the women. This occurs even in relationships where the partners consider themselves socially progressive, and sometimes in actively feminist marriages or other partnership arrangements. The double burden can leave women at a disadvantage.

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Divisions of labor responsibilities in the home that feel unequal can create tensions in a partnership. A partner who comes home from work and still needs to prepare dinner, clean, take care of children, and perform other tasks may start to resent the other partner. Partners with a double burden may feel undervalued, or may believe that their careers are not considered as important. This can also create problems in the workplace, as employees may need to request time off or other scheduling changes to accommodate housework. This may lead employers to believe the employee is not as committed to the work, which can jeopardize a job.

Social researchers examine the factors that lead to the double burden, and in some cases complicate it. In relationships where both partners need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, the double burden can become a significant problem. This can be exacerbated by complexities at home, like disabled children who require extra care, or older homes that require more maintenance work to remain in good condition. Failure to divide tasks equally with respect to the double burden can become a chronic problem.

Studies on this topic also look at the historic valuation of domestic labor. Work inside the home has historically been treated as a lesser form of work that does not entitle people to compensation and other benefits provided in the workplace. The rise of the double burden also ties in with changing norms about relationships and the workplace. Partners who stay at home to manage a household are less common, while relationships where both partners work outside the home are increasingly considered standard in some countries.

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