Session on Mental Load at the 2020 WFRN Conference
Wednesday, October 16th
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CfP for the 2020 Work Families Researchers Network Conference session: Mental load, what is it, how do we measure it, and what are its outcomes?

Session organisers: Heejung Chung (University of Kent, UK), Anke Plagnol (City, University of London, UK), Shireen Kanji (Brunel University, UK)

In May 2017, the Guardian published a cartoon drawn by a French Cartoonist, Emma on the concept of couples’ division of the mental load. It struck a chord with the public, shared more than half a million times and started a debate on the inequality between genders in the domestic work of household management which has been largely unmeasured (Daminger, 2019). It has become especially important to measure and thus make visible this load as an aspect of domestic labour in light of the narrowing of the gap in the amount of time men and women spend on more routinely measured aspects of domestic labour such as cooking, laundry and shopping.  Despite the reduced gap in couples’ division of unpaid labour and men’s interest in being more involved in childcare-related domestic labour (Working Families, 2017), many believe that household responsibilities continue to lie with the mother, grounded in gender essentialist attitudes towards women’s nurturing roles (Scarborough et al., 2018). This responsibility in many cases relates to who manages who does what and when. Such cognitive/mental workload is important to observe, given that in addition to actual physical workload, time pressure, one aspect of the mental load, is a crucial determinant of mothers’ mental stress levels (Ruppanner et al., 2018). Furthermore, to enable gender parity in the workplace, gender equality in the household is crucial and needs to include the mental/cognitive load in addition to other forms of unpaid labour division between couples. It is possible that a high mental/cognitive load resulting from household obligations distracts from paid work and thus may hinder women’s career prospects.

This session invites papers that examine the mental load from various perspectives.

Questions can include

  • What types of mental load are out there – are there more “feminine” vs “masculine” tasks?
  • How can we measure the mental load empirically, can we develop a concrete measure that can be used across countries, and life cycles?
  • What are the determinants of who does which type of mental labour?
  • What are the outcomes of the unequal division of mental load –for women’s labour market outcomes, relationship quality/stability, and well-being outcomes for parents/children?

We invite qualitative quantitative, and theoretical approaches that examine these and related questions around the issue of mental load.


Please send a short abstract (250 words) of your paper to Heejung Chung by the 16th of October WEDNESDAY.

We will notify you of the selection by the 21st of October – with the final submission of the panel by the 1st of November.

More about the WFRN conference 2020 – in New York City, US – can be found here:

Daminger, A. (2019) The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor. American Sociological Review 84(4): 609-633.

Ruppanner, L, Perales, F and Baxter, J. (2018) Harried and Unhealthy? Parenthood, Time Pressure, and Mental Health. Journal of Marriage and Family.

Scarborough, WJ, Sin, R and Risman, B. (2018) Attitudes and the Stalled Gender Revolution: Egalitarianism, Traditionalism, and Ambivalence from 1977 through 2016. Gender & Society Online first: 0891243218809604.

Working Families. (2017) Modern Family Index 2017. London: Working Families.