There’s a lot of sociological research that shows that homemakers and people caring for elderly parents full-time suffer from abnormally high rates of depression. This doesn’t apply to people who work in domestic service or in nursing homes, who typically have separate work and family lives and who often have coworkers or employers to talk to.
In fact, something like this was the main charge of The Feminine Mystique: that the dominant social system then and there, which required that women not hold any jobs outside home or educate themselves beyond the bare minimum necessary for housewives, was mentally destructive.
Not that the plural of anecdote is data, but I can add another data point to that. Over the last 24-36 hours, I’ve finally gotten the idea of how it all works. All it takes can be 36 hours of doing nothing, and mental atrophy ensues. Obviously there’s a huge difference between 36 hours, which are largely the calm before the storm that is grad school, and 36 years, but it’s a difference of degree, not kind.
So now I finally get it. Previously, I knew the phenomenon, and I knew in a very vague sense why it happened. But now I know exactly how it happens, and just how damaging it is. First, you get bored. Then you do repetitive tasks to interest you, but after a while they become draining. A housewife cleans repeatedly; I read the same blogs over and over. Then your brain starts atrophying, and soon you would like to just sleep but can’t since you can’t sleep 24/7.
I know I’ll get over it. I have a grad student orientation in 4 hours and 20 minutes, and either way I expect to need to work 80 hours a week doing math one week from now. But the countless women pushed out of the public sphere by sexist men, doomed not to have any meaningful job simply because their prospective employers don’t like working mothers, won’t.