Gender inequality in couples moving for work?
March 21, 2014 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Anecdotally, it seems clear to me that women are far more likely to move to a new city for her husband's job than vice versa. But I'd like some hard numbers! There has to have been research on this, but I have no idea how to find it.

In case it isn't clear, what I'm talking about is a situation where one half of a heterosexual couple needs or wants to move to a new place for the sake of their career, and the other half is put in the position of finding a new job. In my experience, both in my own life and in what I've seen here on AskMe, men are much more likely to uproot their family for the sake of a job, and therefore women are more likely to be the half of a couple that's asked to make sacrifices in her career in order to move to a new place.

Can you point me to studies that have been done about this? Statistics? Anything? Or even better search terms I can use?
posted by Narrative Priorities to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ah, the famous two-body problem. That wikipedia page has some links to papers, but you'll find a lot of hits searching 'two body problem'.. almost entirely about academia though.
posted by Erasmouse at 5:57 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's hard, because the question of whose job takes priority is logically tied to the criterion of which job makes more money, which is (well-studied) correlated with gender. But it sounds like you're also wondering whether gender plays a role in asserting a job's importance regardless of income (i.e. "yes you make more than I ever could, but I really really must move us to Philadelphia for this historic houses job!")
Or maybe you don't care about the reasons, you just want the statistics?
posted by aimedwander at 6:21 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "trailing spouse" or "trailing career" will get you lots of results. Sometimes if the husband (for simplicity's sake) will be moving a lot for his career (foreign service, military, whatever), the wife will seek a "portable career" or a "portable job." (Teaching used to be pretty popular as a portable job.) Anyway, try those search terms.

Here's a dissertation on the trailing spouse in expat communities, which is a bit more intense (since the spouse might not have work papers, etc)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:24 AM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: There appears to be a study from Stanford University that found:

"A survey of 30,000 professors and researchers at 13 major research universities finds that in academic couples, 50 percent of husbands say their career comes first compared with only 20 percent of wives. Academic couples are actually more equitable in their career values than couples in which one person is not in academia, the survey found, but the tendency for men to put themselves first lingers, even when the female partner earns more money."
posted by kyrademon at 6:29 AM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: But it sounds like you're also wondering whether gender plays a role in asserting a job's importance regardless of income

That's part of what I'm trying to get at, I think. The income gap obviously plays a major role in these situations, but it seems like there's more to it than that, and I'd like to look at studies and statistics as a sort of reality check on my personal feelings and observations. Like the quote kyrademon just posted below -- "50 percent of husbands say their career comes first compared with only 20 percent of wives."
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:35 AM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: I would be looking for data in the immigrant and non-immigrant visa categories for employer sponsored visas.

Unfortunately, the US state department does not break down visa allocation by gender. However, this data must be available somewhere, as the New York Times was able to report on gender bias in H-1B visa allocation.

If you are trying to reason about trailing spouses, look at the H4 visa category. H4 visa holders are spouses and children of H-1B visa holders. How many H4 visa holders are adult males of working age? Granted, this is not a fair capture of all spouses of workers in the US on H-1B visas as many of them are legally in the US on other statuses/visas, but it is measurable.

You could do similar research on those in the US on TD status/visa derived from the presence in the US of a TN status holder. There are other US employment-based visa pairs I'm sure but I don't know them offhand.

Reasoning about employment based green card applications is more difficult because spouses and children receive green cards based on the class of the sponsored applicant at the time of application (so all would count under EB2 or EB3 even if only one in the family worked). However, the green card applications of all family members is derived from a worker's I-140 application. Information about spouse and children is captured on the I-140, so in theory you should be able to capture the trailing family information based on statistics compiled from those forms. Not sure how you'd find them.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:43 AM on March 21, 2014

Anecdata - female from the US here. Mr. Arnicae has now twice moved to support my career, both times at significant professional and personal impact to himself. His career tends to be slightly more portable than mine, and I do make more than he does, FWIW.

This is not a decision we arrived at lightly, either time. And we are taking aggressive steps to be sure that my next move will be one that better suits him personally and professionally.

This was a financial and a strategic choice for us, and gender did not play into it at all. As we strategize about our next move I have no doubt that finance and personal preference/professional strategy will again be the deciding factors for us.

We also are open to doing what we did for multiple years, that is, maintaining two primary residences.
posted by arnicae at 8:33 AM on March 21, 2014

Also, women in general seem to take on (due to whatever mix of external and internal pressure) the bulk of work to "make a family" -- this often starts at the stage of changing last names and continues with other increased willingness to be the one to take on inconvenience or sacrifice for the sake of the unit. Job valuation is just a component of that.
posted by acm at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: There's been a number of recent articles with statistics on how women and men handle academia that may be relevant. I would assume when looking things over that men who are accepting academic jobs are likely to have a spouse moving with them. I tried to research this a couple of years ago and found it hard to find good data. "Trailing spouse" returned the best results but I'm not sure it's exactly what you're looking for.
posted by JuliaKM at 9:12 AM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: This book chapter (Google book link) from "It's About Time: Couples and Careers" might start getting at what you're asking. If you scroll pasts the theory, there's a 1999 study reported with actual numbers from dual-career couples.

Everything else I'm finding on Google Scholar seems to be from the mid-80s, which I'm guessing is out of date by now.
posted by jaguar at 10:40 AM on March 21, 2014

Best answer: Oh, a more recent 2008 study, Gender Role Beliefs and Family Migration (pdf) by Thomas J. Cooke, looks interesting. Abstract:

Consistent empirical evidence demonstrates that demographic indicators associated with traditional gender roles, such as the presence of children, are linked to the negative effect of moving on married women’s employment and earnings. However, very few studies have directly examined how gender role beliefs are related to family migration behaviour. This analysis demonstrates that when a couple shares egalitarian gender role beliefs, the family has a lower probability of moving when the wife is employed and has a higher probability of moving when the wife is unemployed and wants to work. Among couples that do not share traditional gender role beliefs, migration appears to be unaffected by the employment status of the wife. This study is one of the few which clearly demonstrates that family migration is contingent on the gender role beliefs of husbands and wives.
posted by jaguar at 10:45 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know this is anecdata, but among my (academic) peers of my age, I can think of four cases in the past few years where couples who both had academic jobs have moved overseas or across-country for the woman's job, with the man accepting a period of unemployment to make it work for them. Then I know a further two cases where the couple lived separately to make that work. I don't know any where two-academic-career couples moved for the husband's job, although I know of lots where couples moved for the husband's job while the wife was still doing a PhD, or when the wife had a non-academic job (that tends to be relatively more relocatable.)

In the generation above mine, looking around my colleagues, the trailing spouse was always the wife.

Among my peers, everyone seems to be super-aware of this gender imbalance, and one of the reasons I hear my female friends saying they don't want to be the trailing spouse is that they say they don't want to fulfil that stereotype. In fact, my husband, who is about to move to another city for my job, says that one of the "pros" of doing this is that he gets to help balance out the statistics!
posted by lollusc at 5:26 PM on March 21, 2014

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