New research shows that working mothers in Australia are feeling the pressure of juggling home, work and leisure time more than ever before.
A joint study conducted over a 17-year period by the University of Newcastle in New South Wales and the University of Hohenheim in Germany used data from the Australian Longitudinal Women Health Study (ALWHS) to explore the effect of motherhood and work on women's perceived time pressure.
The study results showed that, over those 17 years, women's perceptions of time pressure increased, and were directly influenced by factors such as the number of children a woman had, financial pressures, working hours and employment stability.
Time is thought to play an important role in overall life satisfaction and wellbeing. Perceptions of time pressure have been linked to feelings of stress and can be associated with poor health outcomes such as depression, sleep disorders and increased risk of diabetes. This can also influence our lifestyle in terms of physical activity and dietary choices, therefore the public health implications of perceived time pressure need to be considered.
Little is known about the factors that influence time pressure. However, it is thought that as we move deeper into the technological age, with faster transportation, communications and production, we have an even greater perception of time pressure, that we are 'constantly behind and need to catch up'.
Reasons behind the feelings of being time-poor are complicated; women are often balancing time in roles such as a parent, paid employee, partner, homemaker and caregiver, and the importance of these roles change throughout the life span.
Interestingly, the study found that having a partner did not influence women's perceived time pressure. This may be due to evidence that many women still bear the major share of household chores and act as primary caregivers, therefore having a partner may not influence their perceptions, according to Jean Hailes psychologist, Gillian Needleman.
"Women have generally continued with traditional gender roles, housekeeping and child rearing," Gillian says. "Nowadays, with modern economic pressures – many families require both parents to enter the workforce – it's a relatively new phenomena and acquires a rethink of task distribution at home."
Gillian believes couples need to sit down and start a discussion about "who does what" in the home.
"I see many women who can't relax until the house is tidy, but men often don't seem to have a problem with this," she says. "I advise couples to reassess who does what; maybe swap roles for a week, so the other partner gets to experience what it's like to work full-time and also be expected to run a household.
"It may not be a problem that can be fixed overnight, but certainly warrants discussion."
Gillian points out it is not an issue confined to heterosexual couples.
"This situation is exactly the same with same-sex couples," she says. "There often seems to be one partner who does the lion's share of the household chores, regardless of how many hours they work outside the home."
Overall, it appears that working mothers are a group at risk of time stress, and are vulnerable to the long-term effects of this on their health. Our policies and attitudes may therefore need a rethink to accommodate changes in the profile of our workforce.
Future policies that encourage and support women's workforce inclusion are needed. Improved access to childcare, flexible working policies and open dialogue around domestic chores are all topics which warrant discussion.