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Downshifting reinforces traditional gender roles

Up to 40 percent of working parents are exhausted, according to a fresh study by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Feeling overburdened, some are downshifting their careers to work less and enjoy life more—but the trend may also send women back into the kitchen.

Nainen laittaa ruokaa.
Emäntä häärää keittiössään v. 1946. Image: YLE

Downshifiting—a form of voluntary simplicity—is limited to those with discretionary income, according to THL researcher Johanna Lammi-Taskula.

“If your living standard is already low, there’s nowhere to step down from,” she says.

Well-educated women seem to find downshifting the most appealing. But trading the rat race for a quieter life may bite women in years to come. Withdrawing from the office could mean more work at home, especially in families with children, say researchers. Women still bear the brunt of household chores, and studies have shown that conventional gender roles are often reinforced when children are born into a family.

“When you turn down demanding positions, the same opportunity may not come around again,” says Leena Linnainmaa, deputy director general at the Finnish Central Chamber of Commerce.

Simpler, quieter lives also fail to impress the pro-business group EVA.

Matti Apunen of the organisation says downshifting is a road for the lazy and hedonistic.

“Personal comfort becomes a norm. But people don’t just work for themselves—it's also for the good of society,” he says. “The labour force finances the lives of those unable to work.”

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