Rosario Torres says she doesn’t even have time to think. She is 52 years old; she has two adult daughters who still live with her as well as two dogs. Her husband works “literally 12 hours” a day. She wonders “how anyone could believe” that she has “a single minute” for herself. She works two jobs as a housekeeper and eats her meals going from one to the other. She points out that she actually has “four [jobs]: two who pay me more for the cleaning and the dogs. Rosario doesn’t know what it’s like to have time for herself, “not to mention slacking off.” What if she left some of her tasks for the next day? “What I do every day has to be done every day because no one else will, and then I’ll pile on work until I can’t even sleep.”
Torres, who emigrated to Spain from Ecuador more than a decade ago, is just one of many women who barely know what free time is. These women live by the maxim of not “putting off until tomorrow what you can do today”. Having free time to do nothing, or the luxury of not doing something momentarily, depends on multiple socioeconomic, cultural and family variables, such as place of residence, occupation and having a partner or children. Either way, women tend to have less free time because they often work and act as caregivers. In 2019, ClosinGap’s study The Gender Gap’s Opportunity Cost in Free Time estimated that women’s combined free time was 11.1 million hours less per day than men’s; Spanish women average only 1 hour and 37 minutes a day. This gap widens in rural areas, where women spend two hours and seven minutes more a day at home with their families than men.
Laura Sagnier, an economist specializing in big data and market intelligence, has spent almost two years analyzing what Spanish women think and feel and what their lives are like (Las Mujeres Hoy [Women Today], Deusto, 2018). She says women’s ‘free’ time depended on their living situation, what she calls the multiple ‘fronts’ of children, partners and work.
Sagnier found that women’s free time breaks down as follows: If women are not active on any of the “fronts”, they have 4 hours and 18 minutes. If they live with only one partner, 5 hours and 6 minutes. If they only have children, 4 hours and 18 minutes. If they only have a paid job, 3 hours and 36 minutes. If they have both a partner and children, 3 hours and 18 minutes. If they have a partner and a paid job, 3 hours and 24 minutes. If they have paid employment and children, 2.5 hours. And if they have the three, 1 hour and 54 minutes. Women work double shifts which consist of both paid and unpaid (domestic) work. They experience what is called a mental load; which refers to the mental effort required by women’s daily organizational responsibilities at work and at home. They also place additional demands on themselves, especially in their work; these additional expectations are based on gender stereotypes and the gender gap. This means that they work harder to achieve the same goals and demonstrate the same skills as men; sometimes women also try to avoid burdening their colleagues with work they can do themselves.
The way society is structured means that the time women have for themselves – if they have any – tends to matter more than the time spent serving others. This contributes to the fact that women suffer from more stress, anxiety, depression and emotional problems – and take more medication to relieve them – than men. As women age, the amount of medication they take compared to men increases. According to the 2017 National Health Survey (the most recent), 34.1% of women over the age of 65 had taken tranquilizers in the previous two weeks, compared to 15.4% of men. “Some authors suggest that greater job instability plays a role. Others highlight the greater willingness of women to talk about their symptoms and to consult a doctor compared to men,” explained María Isabel Santos Pérez, author of a study on this subject, to EL PAÍS.
Quim Limonero, professor of psychology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, points out that women tend to be more responsible and to follow the rules, based on the influence of a culture that has traditionally entrusted them with more tasks and caring tasks than men. “When taking care of others leads [women] to give up activities they find rewarding, this can lead to mental illness, which tends to occur more often [among women than] among men, although it varies by society,” he says.
Rosario is still “overwhelmed” and has been on a prescription for benzodiazepines for seven years. Amelia, who is trying to advance in the legal profession and prefers not to give her last name for “professional reasons”, has been on medication for three years since she turned 31. The problems started 2 months after joining the law firm where she currently works: “I couldn’t fall asleep and I was dizzy all day.” She goes on to mention the pressure she feels: “In my world, if you’re young – and even more so if you’re a woman, obviously – you have to follow the program or they’ll eat you raw. I work crazy hours and I’m always available. Of course, she has no children or other responsibilities, but she also has no free time: “I’m almost never able to say, okay, I’m going to the cinema or to dinner… “Work, more work, little or no free time, stress, anxiety, medication: the simple fact of being a woman is considered a risk factor for mental health problems. Several studies show that the probability of a woman suffering from mental health problems is around 20%, almost twice as high as for a man. There are both biological and social reasons for this. As with many health conditions, the interaction between the two determines whether or not certain disorders emerge.
Experts agreed that biological factors – determined by hormones – play an important role. As noted by Marina Díaz Marsá, president of the Psychiatric Society of Madrid and director of psychiatry at the San Carlos Hospital Clinic, changes related to estrogen and the reproductive cycle occur in adolescence, after childbirth, perimenopause and menopause.
But the biology is compounded by social factors: “Between 45 and 55, women face significant burdens in their lives, including higher demands at work as well as many physical and psychological changes. This is why the problem is at its peak during this period, and women may suffer more from depression. A Gaceta Sanitaria 2019 [Health Gazette] The study concluded that gender, social class, family roles, and work inside and outside the home and family environment can lead to inequalities in mental health. The caregiver role often contributes to these problems. “When a woman experiences anxiety, prolonged insomnia, irritability or guilt about going to work instead of caring for her children, she usually does not think that she has a disease. She usually goes to the psychiatrist or doctor later, waiting until the solution has become more difficult. There is a tendency to ignore the fact that these are mental health problems, that they are diseases that can be treated,” Ana González-Pinto, president of the Spanish Psychiatry and Mental Health Foundation, said in a statement. interview with El Médico Interactivo. [The Interactive Physician].
Being able to handle it all saps both time and health
However, women are more resilient in the face of such problems, says Javier Olivera Pueyo, a psychiatrist who oversees the psychogeriatrics and psychosomatic medicine program at the San de Huesca.
Jorge University Hospital. For example, although women have more mental health problems, they commit suicide much less often than men. This resilience also shows up in the workplace, which is not always a good thing. A positive attitude sometimes leads women to overwork themselves. This burden is tainted with gender stereotypes, but it is harmful in the short and long term. In a 2021 study conducted at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, in conjunction with Harvard Business School, Grant Donnelly – one of the paper’s co-authors – performed an experiment with his class. It awarded a paper worth 20% of the final mark to 103 undergraduates in a business course. They were given a week to submit the essay, but said they could officially request a one-week extension via email. 36% of them asked for one; only 15% of them were women.
Afterwards, another teacher — who didn’t know who wrote the assignments or who asked for an extension — graded the essays. Students who requested an extension performed better. “[Women’s] fear of overloading their team and manager with extra work was the most predictive of their discomfort with asking for more time. Perceived burden and emotions such as shame and guilt explained why women were more uncomfortable asking for an extension,” Donnelly explains via email.
In this case, research shows that “women should ask for more time” when they need it. However, they usually don’t “because they fear being seen as incompetent or unable to do their job effectively; this concern is exaggerated. Asking for extra time reduces burnout and allows women to produce better quality work. The survey consisted of nine studies with more than 5,000 participants, both working adults and students. He found that “the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do them is a social epidemic that compromises productivity, physical health, and emotional well-being” for everyone. However, this research and “previous research shows that women experience proportionally greater temporal stressors than men.”
Women’s empathy is partly to blame for their “increased burnout and stress at work”. They are more “relationship-oriented” and “more concerned with being a burden to others, with being good teammates; they tend to be more sensitive than men to the needs of others. [Women] sacrifice their own needs to meet those of others, both voluntarily and in response to social pressure”. These are “very good characteristics to have as a colleague, but they undermine [women’s] well-being and performance.
Amelia, the lawyer, acknowledges that she should “try” to make more time “for my family, my friends; I have almost no social life until I go on vacation. Rosario, however, just wants time for herself. She would like “to be able to be lazy once in a while…everyone could take care of themselves…I could take care of myself and even say, ‘I’ll do this tomorrow.'”