Gender Inequality and the Two-Body Problem

By Jaclyn S. Wong 

When an opposite-sex couple decides whether to move for a job opportunity, their outcome often depends on the gender of the person who was offered that opportunity. When men are offered career opportunities requiring relocation, couples usually accept them and women move for men. However, when women are given job opportunities in another location, couples usually forgo them and women stay for men.  In both scenarios, couples’ behaviors result in adverse consequences for women, including interrupted work histories and lower pay over their life course. How do couples keep reproducing gender-unequal outcomes even when they favor egalitarianism – gender equality in work and family?

I answer this question by interviewing both partners of 21 heterosexual couples considering relocation for job opportunities following graduation from graduate or professional school. Studying this particular group of people allowed me to identify how gender shapes couples’ decision-making. Partners in graduate or professional school were similar to one another in their educational background and qualifications, so there was no clear career leader among men or women in these couples. Further, these contemporary young adults endorsed egalitarian attitudes toward work and family, meaning they did not assume men would take primary responsibility for working while women would take the lead in family affairs.Wong_2.8.17

I interviewed each person three times over the course of nearly two years to document how couples navigate their job applications and transition into their first careers. This over-time study allows me to capture peoples’ desired work-family arrangements as they prepare to launch careers at Time 1, their negotiations over actual work-family roles at Time 2, and their evaluations of their outcomes at Time 3. Continue reading “Gender Inequality and the Two-Body Problem”