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Data Confirms Women Are Still Carrying A Heavy Mental Load in 2023 & That's Gotta Change

A 2023 State of Women Report from theSkimm paints a dire picture of what women are up against.. and how they're taking matters into their own hands.

If you’re a woman who’s felt the weight of holding everything together, you’re not alone. A new survey of more than 4,500 women conducted by The Harris Poll found that 71% feel it’s their job to worry about and think through all potential scenarios should something bad happen. The statistic is part of theSkimm’s 2023 State of Women Report, which paints a dire, but not entirely hopeless, portrait of American women today.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven divisive, both literally through isolation and death and ideologically. Throughout this period, study after study found that women, and especially mothers, were the ones to bear the brunt of the work of holding everything together, and disproportionately suffered the consequences of things falling apart. (This was notably even more pronounced among women of color, especially Black women.) In many cases, however, researchers and women themselves highlighted the fact that this pressure wasn’t created by the pandemic, but rather underscored it — an assertion that seems to be supported by this new report. Because while the pandemic isn’t completely over, many of the pressures that made it so difficult — remote school, heightened economic uncertainty, and lack of effective vaccines and treatments — have been ameliorated... and even so, women are still carrying the emotional weight of their world on their shoulders.

In addition to feeling responsible for worrying and planning for the worst...

  • 74% of women surveyed agreed “I am always adjusting my life to accommodate others (e.g., family, co-workers, friends, etc.)”
  • 79% were concerned with the social expectations around unpaid labor/mental load that women are responsible for
  • 76% believe women are largely responsible for unpaid labor and mental load at home (e.g., women doing more household labor, taking on scheduling, etc.)
  • 73% said they were “overwhelmed” by parenthood

Moreover, these overwhelmed women do not feel confident in the idea that outside forces are coming to help anytime soon. Only 16% felt they had the ability to effect legislative change, despite its 65% believing new legislation is not advancing women’s rights. A staggering 86% believe women contribute more to society than they get back and 74% believe society treats women like second-class citizens. Additionally, 82% agreed that even though “everyone talks about how overburdened women are ... no one is actually helping them ease the burden” and 84% agreed “men need to step up” and demand equality for women.

But in talking to survey participants, theSkimm found that mothers are taking matters into their own hands. Jessica, a 35-year-old management consultant from Oklahoma says she’s combatting burnout by embracing the power of saying no. “To events that I previously felt obligated to attend even though I was exhausted from mothering 4 kids, cooking & cleaning, wife-ing, and working full time. To girls lunch when I really wanted to be alone for an hour between clients. To laundry when my mental health needed a long walk on a pretty day,” she told researchers. “To anything that gives me more stress than I want to handle.”

Women surveyed report prioritizing their mental and physical wellness in the wake of the pandemic.Dusan Stankovic/E+/Getty Images

Laura, a senior marketing manager in New Hampshire has taken a similar tack. “I've stopped saying yes to every request. It's shocked my family,” she said. “They are learning to be more self-sufficient, but its been a painful process.”

Courtenay Stevens of Utah has actively prompted her family to take on more responsibility for home and family management. “I've started asking my partner to take on more of the mental load of running our family. Also I've started asking my kids ‘How are you going to contribute to the household today?’ ... I hope one day it will make them more considerate partners who can look around, see that something needs to be done, and do it without being asked.”

Other women, who don’t have children, have taken a play from Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller’s book in deciding that having kids just isn’t for them. “I have decided not to have children. With inflation so high, climate change, and other scary factors contributing to my decision, I just know having children would put a huge burden & strain on my life,” said Emily of Indianapolis. “I prefer to focus on my own well being by saving money, investing, daily yoga & exercise, and volunteering at an animal shelter. It's one of the few things in my life I feel like I have control over and can make the decision myself.”

Not much good came from the pandemic years, but perhaps one bittersweet positive is the idea that mothers and women generally have been forced as never before to face everything it is we perform, manage, and carry... and realize that this is in no way sustainable.