Introducing ThirdShift

Steering wheel showing post-it notes of things to be done

Welcome to the ThirdShift Blog! ThirdShift is creating a more equal world by changing the way busy parents work and stay connected. Originally founded to solve the problem of Mental Load – the mental work of managing and organising a household. This is work that’s disproportionately done by women, is mostly invisible, and continues to be a significant barrier to gender equality in the workplace. Mental Load goes hand in hand with bearing an unequal share of the actual household work. That’s why a lot of the topics we will talk about are related to not only helping people to reclaim their mental space, but also practical matters related to household management. This post will give a short overview of the issues ThirdShift was founded to address. In time, this blog will become a resource for people interested in how households manage their workload, including the latest research and practical tips for addressing this in your own household.

Who is ThirdShift for?

In short – ThirdShift is for everyone. At ThirdShift we often talk about “household work” and “households” instead of families or couples. This is because we know that households come in many shapes and sizes. Some have multiple generations, more than two adults, and differing relationships between the members. Share houses face many of the same challenges as couples or families. Single people living alone face far fewer challenges with household work management than people having to share workload with others. But even single people should be able to benefit from help in managing, measuring and valuing the work they do. At ThirdShift, we recognise the importance of being as flexible and inclusive as possible in helping households and individuals in managing the work of life.

Why does data matter?

The idea for ThirdShift started with a bookclub in August 2019, where we read Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. This problem – of the lack of data on such critical issues as the unpaid work that women globally do in the home – was where the idea originated. In the book, Caroline Criado Perez talks about how GDP figures don’t take account of unpaid labour, reinforcing the devaluing of this work. And of course, this is work that’s primarily done by women. In March 2020, the New York Times reported that the global value of women’s unpaid labour was worth $10.9 trillion last year. This is a huge and invisible source of labour and skills that is fundamentally not recognised or valued.

This has a very real impact on an individual level too. When I started researching how households manage their workload, I found an interesting trend. Stay at home parents report feeling guilty because they’re not contributing to their household financially. This is despite working in many cases 80 or more hours per week. These people are exhausted, unable to switch off, and feel that they’re not contributing enough. At the root of this problem is not understanding the value of the work they’re doing. That’s what we at ThirdShift want to change.

What data is there on unpaid work?

So why does data on unpaid household labour matter? I’ve work in tech for the past six years, where it’s commonly said “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. The funny thing about this, is that there’s actually loads of research on the dynamics in households. Studies abound on attitudes to what people believe should be the case, time use studies looking at what actually happens in homes, going back decades – and much more. But they all say broadly the same thing. While there was a lot of progress in the eighties with men taking over more at home, progress has stalled.

I’m 35 years old, and there hasn’t been any real movement in terms of equality of domestic load – on aggregate – in my lifetime. That’s shocking to me, and I would hope to others. This isn’t just an issue for the developing world either (where the issue is certainly worse). This holds true across first world economies. According to the Atlantic: “Married American mothers spend almost twice as much time on housework and child care than do married fathers.” This is also not only a problem for Stay At Home Parents. Bright Horizons Modern Family Index reports 86% of working mothers say they are responsible for handling all family and household responsibilities.

Why don’t households manage this issue better? The major reason is that much of the work that’s done at home is invisible to the person that isn’t doing it. Data on societal trends is available if you choose to seek it out, but data on your household isn’t readily accessible. And collecting it means creating more work – for the person who’s already doing most of it. That’s what we want to fix.

Why do we need ThirdShift now?

As I write this, we are in the midst of coronavirus lockdown. The outlook for the global economy is worse than anyone can comprehend. We’ve not seen an economic downfall of this magnitude in living memory. So it seems like a strange time to talk about fixing the way households manage their workload. But actually, when we’re all home all the time, the work that happens there is more visible than ever.

Attitudes on this are also primed for change – because the desire for equality is growing:

  • In 1984, 49% of UK couples agreed it’s “a man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family”. By 2013, that had fallen to 13%. (Source: NatCen)
  • A survey of 500 British men showed they value “providing financial support for family” (51%) about as much as “parenting abilities” (49%) and “providing emotional support for family” (46%) (Source: JWT, 2013). 
  • “Attitudes among less-well-educated fathers have been evolving especially quickly. Twenty years ago, low-income fathers were more likely than managerial/ professional fathers to say young children needed full-time mother-care. Today they are less likely to endorse this idea than more privileged men – or than their own partner (Crompton & Lyonette, 2010)” (Source: Fatherhood Institute, p.2)
  • The percentage of families where both parents are in full time work is rising in the UK – Up from 26% in 2000 to 31% in 2016. (Source)
  • Finally, younger generations are more likely to want equality of roles in the household than older generations (Source: NatCen). If this trend continues, we can expect growing demand for tools to make role equality easier. 

Further reading

So with that, welcome to ThirdShift! We hope this blog will be a resource that will help your to find your own way to equality, by equipping you with the tools and information to strive for balance. If you’re interested in reading further about how the dynamics of household work have shifted over time, take a look at The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Hochschild is a sociologist who coined the term “Emotional Labour”, which is another form of work that’s highly feminised. She did not intend it to mean the work that’s done in the home to manage the emotional wellbeing of the family. Nonetheless the term has since been expanded in usage to also refer to this. An interesting topic for another time.

If you want to understand more about your household work, you can try the ThirdShift app. It helps you to measure, manage and value the work in your household. Or start by taking the ThirdShift Quiz to give you an overview of your current workload. It is completely free, and gives you a starting point to understand the data on your own household. Start now.

Ready to start creating equality in your home?

Knowledge is power – the first step to solving the problem is understanding it. Take the ThirdShift Quiz to start understanding what your work is worth.