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In the past, women were only able to perform limited roles that the highly patriarchal society had assigned to them: childbearing, home keeping and provision of care to their families. However, the women’s liberation movement that was launched in the 1970s fought for a greater participation of women in all spheres of life. As a result of the aggressiveness in the women’s movement, women were able to join the educational institutions as well as the labor market. As the demand for female workers increased, the number of women pursuing higher education also increased. However, the increasing participation of women in education and employment sectors did not relieve them of their child bearing and home keeping roles. ‘Double day’, ‘double shift’, ‘dual roles’, and ‘double burden’ are terms used to refer to the engagement in paid as well as unpaid labor. This paper will examine the origin of ‘double day’ and the impact it has on women.

Parcel (1999, p.265) states that, “over the last few decades, increasing numbers of women have taken on the role of income earners (paid work), yet at the same time they continue to perform their traditional roles as household managers and child care providers.” On the other hand, more men are taking up household responsibilities due to the women liberation movement’s fight for equality. Despite the entry of men into the household sector, majority of household responsibilities are still performed by women. In addition, women are also expected to actively participate in their wider community by offering free essential services and providing care to the needy members. The responsibilities expected of women increase significantly in times of economic recessions when the reduced government revenues lead to significant budget cuts in areas such as health care and Medicare thereby limiting the accessibility of people to essential services. In such situations, the provision of care is shifted from institutions to the community where women are expected to take over the role of care providers.

The multiple roles that women are forced to perform have had a significant effect on women and especially on how they spend their day and the strategies they use to perform their responsibilities. Since the length of the day cannot be increased, most women are forced to reduce the amount of time spent on leisure, rest or sleep. As a result, women have been forced to adopt various coping strategies which enable them to complete their day’s work. One of the strategies is referred to as multi-tasking in which women perform two or more tasks at the same time. For instance, many female market vendors with young children often do their work while at the same time taking care of their children. In other cases, some women are often forced to snatch a few minutes from work and rush back home to breast feed their child or to look after a sick family member. In yet other cases, the concern of women for their children forces them to make frequent calls at home from their places of work and inquire about the welfare of their children. This facet of time use is a major constraint on the enjoyment of a high-quality life by women. Thompson states that, “intensification of work, in the sense that a person is exerting more effort (physical and/or mental) per unit of time by simultaneously performing two or more activities, is a qualitative dimension of time use that is relevant to women and their wellbeing” (2002, p.216).

Double day affects the health of fetus and of the mother. A research involving 7,722 pregnant mothers of both African and Euro-American descent was done to determine the effects of multiplicity of roles on the health of the fetus and mother. The participants were categorized into three groups: those who only worked at home; those whose nature of their jobs required them to sit; and those whose nature of their work required them to stand for long durations of time. 81 percent of the Euro-American participants fell into the second category compared to only 32 percent of the African American participants (Mullings, 1997, p.62). The research found that pregnant mothers who worked outside their homes in the last trimester were more likely to give birth to low birth-weight babies than mothers who remained at home. The conclusion of the research was that, “growth retardation was most severe when mothers had stand-up jobs, continued working until near term, were hypertensive, or had children at home to care for when they returned from work” (Mullings, 1997, p.63). Apart from negative effects on physical health, ‘double day’ also causes emotional exhaustion in women.

The effect of double day on women’s emotional exhaustion is especially significant in organizations which expect long working hours from their employees. In such organizational cultures, women suffer more than men due to the fact that women have less access to the time resource than men do. After a long working day, women especially those with children have to go home and start providing care to their family members despite their fatigue. Even in cases where women have help at home, for instance, nannies or house helps, women still have to ensure that everything in the home is running smoothly and that their children are well taken care of. In addition, family members often place high expectations on women. For instance, children still expect their mothers to come home from work and assist them with their school assignments. This is rarely the case for men who are able to go home from work and rest without feeling any guilt and without anyone raising a voice. The effect of such demanding expectations is emotional exhaustion which may force women to perform one responsibility well at the expense of others. For instance, women may be unable to keep up with the long working hours expected of them by their organization and instead give priorities to their family or they may choose to give their work priority over their families. As Posig and Kickul (2004, p.375) state, “longer working hours are difficult to take on when the pressures already exist for women trying to balance work and family.”

The negative effects of double day on women increase for women in the sandwich generation. These are women who not only have children to care for but also older family members and relatives such as parents. The number of women who are caught in the sandwich generation is increasing due to the increasing rate of the aging population in the United States and other countries (Pagani and Marenzi, 2008, p.428). To make the situation worse, economic recession around the globe has forced many governments to reduce their budgetary allocations to important sectors such as health care. As a result, majority of the elderly people are either forced to live by themselves and depend on themselves for survival. Alternatively, the elderly people are forced to depend on their adult children for care. In the later scenario, it is mostly the female adult children rather than the male children who take responsibilities for their aging and ailing parents. The burden that such added responsibilities create for women is insurmountable. Women caught in this dilemma have to take care of the needs of their children and their aging parents in addition to working and/or attending part-time school, all within twenty four hours. Ettner (1995, p.73) states that, “taking into account the possible endogeneity of care activities … co-residing with a disabled senior person has a relevant discouraging effect on participation in the labor force.” This is because the female worker will constantly be disrupted with the demands of the children or senior parent, for instance, medical appointments, picking drug prescriptions from the pharmacist and emergencies, which are inevitable as far as senior persons are concerned.

Women’s double day refers to the engagement of women in paid labor as well as unpaid labor. This was brought about by the increasing number of women in education and the labor market. As a result, the time of women is shared between providing care to family members, managing their homes and earning income. Dual roles create emotional fatigue in women, affect their physical health negatively and lead to the under-productivity in one or more areas. In short, double day reduces the overall quality of life of women.


Ettner, L.S. (1995). The Impact of ‘Parent Care’ on Female Labor Supply Decisions. Demography, 32, 63-80.

Mullings, L. (1997). On Our Own Terms: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of African American Women. New York: Routledge.

Pagani, L., & Marenzi, A. (2008). The Labor Market Participation of Sandwich Generation Italian Women. Journal of Family Economic Issues, 29, 427-444.

Parcel, T.L. (1999). Work and Family in the 21st Century: It’s About Time. Work and Occupations, 26(2), 264-274.

Posig, M., & Kickul, Jill. (2004). Work-Role Expectations and Work Family Conflict: Gender Differences in Emotional Exhaustion. Women in Management Review, 19(7/8), 373-386.

Thompson, C.A. (2002). Managing the Work-Life Balancing Act: An Introductory Exercise. Journal of Management Education, 26(2), 205-221.

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