Working Day and Night? There's a Name for That

The second shift: It's a term you've probably heard if you've done even a tiny bit of reading on feminism and the economy. But what is the second shift -- and is it an archaic thing or something relevant to the lives of women in 2017? Let's break it down.


What is the second shift?

The second shift refers to the double duty that working people (particularly working parents and oftentimes women) do when they complete housework after working a full day at a traditional, paid job. While the second shift can apply to men as well as women, it tends to describe the unequal amount of housework and childcare duties that working women perform in the evenings, after they get home from their workforce jobs.

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So, say a married woman with two kids has a traditional, paid full-time job. At five o'clock (or, in some professions, even later), she comes home and prepares dinner, helps her kids with their homework, does a load of laundry, and organizes the hall closet. If, at the same time, her partner, who also works a traditional, paid full-time job, uses his time after work to relax or unwind or to help with household chores to an unequal degree -- then that woman is working the "second shift." She's taking on the time- and energy-consuming job of running a household in addition to her job in the workforce.


Where does the term come from?

The term "second shift" was coined in 1989. That was the year Arlie Russell Hochschild (with Anne Machung) published The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, a book that focused on the phenomenon of performing work in the home in addition to work in the formal labor force.

What does the second shift mean in 2017?

There's no question that times have changed and that the division of domestic labor has become more and more even in recent years. Men are more likely than ever to embrace childcare and domestic duties as a full-time job (the very idea of a stay-at-home dad would have been foreign just a few decades ago). And, even when both partners are a part of the formal labor force, the division of labor, for many couples, is more or less equal.


But, these strides—as great as they are—do not mean that the second shift has stopped being relevant to women in 2017. In fact, according to Time Money, a recent study found that the second shift is (at least partially) to blame for keeping women out of the coveted C-Suite.

According to the study, Women in the Workplace 2016, a report produced by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, "While 43% of women who share responsibilities evenly with their partner aspire to become top executives, only 34% of women who do a majority of housework and child care have the same aspiration. This trend holds true for men: the more work they do at home, the less interested they are in very senior leadership."


In other words: The more likely a women is to pull a "second shift" at home, the less likely she is to fight for more responsibility (and more promotions) in the office.

And that's not all. The study also found that even once women make it into senior management positions at the office, the second shift tends to persist at home. "Women in senior management are seven times more likely than men at the same level to say they do more than half of the housework," the study found, according to Time Money.


What can be done?

So what can be done about the second shift? To the extent that housework will always need to be done and domestic needs will always need to be dealt with, the second shift is always going to exist. Since hiring full-time maids and nannies isn't a possibility (or necessarily even a desire) for most families, the best solution to combatting the negative effects of the second shift is for two-income couples to acknowledge that it exists and to work actively to divide household labor evenly.


Other, large scale changes (like flexible schedules and extended leave policies) at the corporate level could also work to reduce the negative impact of the second shift on women in the workforce.