Why Do Women Burn Out More Than Men?

Women, Burnout, and COVID-19

Women burn out more than men, right? A quick Google search will usually support this statement and back it up with some hard data. For instance, we know that nearly 2 million women left the workforce during COVID-19. This made up 63% of all job losses during the pandemic. 

We wrote in our book that most of these women left their paid work, to take on more unpaid work responsibilities. These responsibilities include things like cleaning, cooking, and childcare duties. Because of the stress of this extra burden, studies found that women were burning out at twice the rate of men

Seems pretty straightforward when we look at those stats, doesn’t it? But what we actually found during our research is that it’s much more complicated than that. The truth isn’t necessarily that women burn out more than men. The truth is actually that we know that more women burn out than men.

How do women and men experience burnout?

A huge part of the gender equation when it comes to burnout, is understanding that traditional gender roles in American culture, influence how and when people burn out. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? But really, it isn’t. 

*Brief note here: We have almost zero data on burnout for non binary and gender diverse folks. It’s a huge hole in the research. We recognize existence of gender diversity, but our society still largely operates on a gender binary (men ← → women). That gender binary is what we’ll be talking about today. 

From a very early age, our culture teaches girls that their primary role is that of caregiver. Girls play with toys that encourage mothering, cooking, and cleaning. Our culture teaches boys that their primary role is to be the caretaker – giving them toys and roles that reflect this value. When we teach boys and girls where to work, we also teach them where they should to burn out. 

So, we teach men that their primary role is in paid work, and that women’s primary role is in unpaid work. There are hundreds of hundreds of messages from our culture that reinforce this belief. So much so, that it influences where men and women burnout.

Why do we know that women burn out more than men?

In short, we know more about women and burnout because women are (usually) more vocal about it. Women usually burn out in paid work — why so many women left the workforce during COVID. And men usually burn out during unpaid work — taking care of household chores or the kids. 

BUT — in our culture, there are two factors preventing us from knowing more about burnout in men. First, we view symptoms of burnout as normal behaviors for men. Emotional distancing and cynicism are two of the main symptoms for burnout, and they are also two traits we usually associate with men. Second, men are expected to be the “breadwinners” and so when they burn out at home, as opposed to the office, we see it as a normal part of their behavior. 

This is why we know more about burnout in women. It is “normal” in American culture for women to talk about their feelings, it is “normal” for them to take care of the kids. On the flip side, it is “normal” for men to be withdrawn and “normal” for them to not talk about feelings. 

How can we see burnout in men when we’ve made their symptoms invisible? It’s a huge question facing American culture and the expectations we put on men and women. 

If you want read more about our findings, head here: https://www.cultureofburnout.com