Dual career couples

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In physics, dual career couples defined as the "two-body problem" describes the gravitational field created by two celestial bodies. In academia, the same term describes the situation encountered when both members of a couple are applying for jobs. Dual career couples face additional challenges in the job search process: choosing whether, when and how to reveal to prospective employers that your spouse is also looking for a job; deciding whether (and for how long) you and your spouse are willing to live apart for the sake of one or both of your careers; and even choosing how you (as a couple) will make choices.

If one looks back about fifteen years ago, one would occasionally hear about DINKS...double income no kids couples and people would wonder how they would manage once they do have kids. The underlying implication being that when they have a family, one of them - presumably the mother - would step down from her career. But times are changing and now when we look around we see that there are more and more couples where both partners have flourishing careers. When we say "career" it means something more than a job. "Career" is different from "job" in that a career requires a high level of voluntary commitment. Men and women in careers expect to grow and be promoted in their companies over a long period of time. They are dedicated to their professions and even personally identify with their work. In dual career couples, there is a high level of commitment to work. Money is rarely the only motivation, even if the husband is earning more than enough to cater to all needs the wife wants to work for personal growth. Both husband and wife seek steady professional growth; personal satisfaction related to their individual goals; as well as financial satisfaction.

For the woman it is not just a "job" but something that fulfills her needs that are based not only on finances but also the need for personal growth. Exploring and using her potential is something that she derives a sense of enjoyment and achievement from. However as one would anticipate this is no easy task. There are a lot of pressures that have to be dealt with and a lot of work - life balance concerns.

Some of you who are reading this may be a partner in a dual career couple. Some of you will be looking forward to perhaps joining the category of being a dual career couple by getting married. It would be helpful then to look at some of the challenges that are faced by Dual Career couples.

Dual career in different sectors

Dual-career couples in the public sector: a survey of personnel policies and practices

The purpose of this article is to report on original research which identifies public sector policies for recruiting and retaining dual-career couples in the workplace. These policies cover a range of personnel practices, from hiring both spouses in the same agency, to assisting dual-career spouses to find employment elsewhere in the community.

In nearly every public organization, recruitment and retention occur within the context of existing merit system rules and regulations. While neither public nor private sectors appear to have a distinct competitive advantage in accommodating this segment of the emerging workforce, this situation will change in the future. Institutional change is therefore needed in order for government to recruit and retain the most qualified employees.

The Importance of Dual-Career Couples

In rural areas, and in health related services, public employers are finding two-income households often the only source of qualified labor. Moreover, dual-career marriages are changing career mobility patterns, making it more difficult for employers to recruit and retain qualified professionals without also considering the employment prospects for their spouses. Finally, employees are increasingly likely to treat the workplace as an opportunity to meet, date, and even marry, people with similar backgrounds and interests.

Futures research indicates that workers are bringing home to work, reintegrating work and family responsibilities and reversing a 100-year trend separating home from work life.

  1. A desire on the part of dual-career couples to work in the same organization is only one manifestation of this trend. They also want work-related family benefits, including flexi time, parental leave and child care. When a majority of households rely on two incomes, however, workers often need proactive steps by employers to accommodate both their careers, as well as help balance work and family responsibilities. Recently published labor statistics show that 53 percent of married households are "dual-earner," that is both husband and wife are employed.
  2. Various studies also estimate that "dual-career" couples now constitute between 15 and 20 percent of all dual-earner households--more than 7 million employees.
  3. Furthermore, the Employee Relocation Council estimates that 60 percent of all couples relocated annually rely on two incomes to maintain the family household.
  4. One relocation specialist reports that a majority of his clients are now the husbands of relocated women.
  5. Some corporations actually encourage dual careers. Du Pont, for example, has 3500 dual-career couples in a total workforce of 100,000 employees.
  6. Universities are also beginning to experiment with new strategies, because of difficulty in recruiting qualified faculty in certain disciplines. Last year, a survey of land grant institutions highlighted a variety of practices designed to accommodate dual-faculty couples. These efforts included creating new positions, offering couples shared positions, and offering temporary positions to the "trailing spouses" to give them time to establish themselves professionally.
  7. In the U.S. Army, 36,000 soldiers on active duty are in a dual-army-career marriage, and the Married Army Couples Program tries to assign them together.
  8. The rationale is not entirely humanitarian; a U.S. Army Research Institute report found that one-third of male officers would leave the army if they and their army officer wives were assigned to different locations for long periods of time.
  9. The Department of Defense also grants their civilian employees preference on job openings for which they are qualified if they are transferred with a military spouse.
  10. Like child care and family leave benefits, strategies to accommodate dual-career couples are a form of organizational adaptation. Changing workforce demographics, especially the increase in women with young children, as well as greater cooperation between spouses regarding career decisions, are external factors affecting organizational capacity to recruit and retain qualified employees. Recent changes in the nature of work, in staffing patterns and in the management practices of post-industrial systems also emphasize the importance of accommodating dual-career couples.
  11. In an economy where people are the strategic resources, "occupations" are molded around individuals, instead of people being the interchangeable parts in the production process. Thus, concerns about neutral competition for reestablished positions may be anachronistic in much case.

Literature Review

Jagesh and Sangeeta

A Successful "Joint" Hire at Neighboring Universities Sangeeta Bhatia and Jagesh Shah met in graduate school. Ambitious and passionate about their work, they both envisioned successful careers as tenured faculty engaged in world-class medical and technology research. They also hoped to build a family together. Could they realize both goals? Only time would tell.

They "walked away from several bad offers" before securing a "joint" offer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.

"The 'bad offers' were not materially bad," Sangeeta clarifies, "but ones that did not consider that this was a dual recruitment where both of us needed to thrive and be valued." The Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), where they had done their graduate work, succeeded in recruiting both professors-an administrative challenge that, in this case, required coordinating the hiring process at two separate institutions. Joint hires allow universities to hire strategically and, with careful planning, attract top talent.

"Being a professor was just one part of the lives we wanted to have," said Sangeeta. They now live and work in the Boston area, where they are raising their two young children.



by Beverly Baskin, Ed.S, MA, LPC, MCC, NCCC

The past several decades have witnessed dramatic changes in the way we view American Families. These changes are in terms of the way we view relationships and in the way we integrate career and family issues to obtain a satisfying and economically prosperous life. In 1950, the typical family structure consisted of a full-time working father, who was the sole wage earner, and a stay-at-home mom. Today, less than 3% of the population fit that stereotype. Donald Super was truly ahead of his time when he wrote that people face a multitude of decisions in their roles as parents, workers, learners, and leisure participants. This construct has never been more critical than in the work force 2000, and it is truly related to life planning issues for both men and women.


By the year 2000, 80% of the work force will be comprised of dual-earner couples. Twelve percent + of working adults are single mothers and fathers or displaced mothers. By the year 2000, women will represent 60% of the work force --a majority. When it comes to relocating because of a promotion or a job change, couples will very often be faced with a dual career dilemma - his move or hers? (Stoltz-Loike,1992). Actually, the term "dual-career couple" is an offshoot of the phrase "dual earner couple." In the dual career family or couple, wives are more career oriented rather than simply holding jobs, as in many cases of dual earner couples. Currently women and men ages 25 through 29 are equally likely to have four plus years of college, which I find very exciting. In dual career couples, there is a higher commitment, higher level of training, and accumulated experience in their careers. Money is rarely the only motivation. Both husband and wife seek steady advancement and psychological, as well as financial satisfaction.

According to Jim and Jane Carter, in their book, He Works, She Works (1995), the number one conflict faced by women in dual career families is role conflict. Actually, women are used to multiple roles. Taking on multiple responsibilities in connection with others traditionally gave us our power and our feeling of self worth. However women are so often in a situation of giving precedence to one role, either wife or mother or their career that causing great stress. It is referred to as role conflict, which results in role overload.

Here is the crux of the situation. Dual career couples have been proven to be the among the most successful marriages, yet also have the highest rate of divorce in the United States (Carter, J.& J.,1995). We, as counselors, can help reframe and restructure specific stressors facing Dual Career Couples. Stressors encompass the following areas: Society's expectations and socialization of gender and changing sex roles; clarifying values of each couple; finding new support systems congruent with dual career family lifestyles; re-establishing the couples dependency needs and needs for nurturing within the marriage, aside from the external gratification they are both receiving from their work; working with conflicts related to power and competition, and helping the couple make educated decisions regarding occupational mobility.

Jennifer and Rick

Dual Hire with Sequential First and Second Hires like many academic couples, Rick Banks and Jennifer Eberhardt fell in love in graduate school. After earning their degrees from Harvard (Rick in law and Jennifer in psychology), Jennifer entered the academic job market while Rick pursued work as a lawyer. Although not yet an "academic couple," they nevertheless experienced dual-career constraints. Their commitment to supporting both careers- while maintaining a single household-would be tested over the next decade when new job opportunities brought cross-country moves.

In 1998, Rick entered the law professor job market and was offered a position as an assistant professor at Stanford Law School. Rick had other offers, but when Stanford offered his wife a faculty position as well, they decided to head west. At the time, the first of their three sons was an infant, and a cross-country commute was out of the question. Stanford offered Jennifer a four-year, non-tenure-track position as assistant professor in the psychology department.

Over time, their decision to join the Stanford faculty proved to be the right one. Rick received tenure in 2004. Jennifer, whose research ranges from social neuroscience to racial stereotyping and crime, recently earned tenure as well. "Working at the same institution is critical," says Banks, "or more precisely, being able to live in the same place is critical."

Peter and Kim

Kim Cook, Professor of Music in Cello, and Peter Heaney, Professor of Geology, are an academic couple at the Pennsylvania State University. But they did not begin their Penn State careers this way.

"I focused more on my career than on my personal life." His current position allows him to pursue his research on how certain minerals clean up groundwater polluted with toxic metals.

After many successful years at Penn State, Kim and Peter finally met in 2004 and married in 2005. Both agree that having "a balance between career and personal life" is becoming increasingly important to them. In fact, they believe that they would have made different job choices had they met earlier in their careers. If they had met while Peter was at Princeton and Kim at Penn State, they each say they would have given up their faculty positions to work near the other. But this is not a concern for them now. As an academic couple working happily at the same school, they agree that they are "less likely to go on the job market."


  • Time management: They have to live and work together, work spills over into their personal lives, eating up as much time as they allow it to. And, they have a family, coordinating their schedules has become an even greater challenge.
  • Time stress: There isn't enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Both spouses come home and think, "He could do something to help too," or "She should have made a better dinner by planning before hand".
  • Role conflict: With regard to childcare and housekeeping, a dual-career couple may struggle with dividing chores equally. Even though both husband and wife work full time, studies have shown that the wife still carries the burden of childcare and housekeeping. It may be difficult for a dual-career couple to change social standards that they have lived with all of their lives. However, an unequal division of work at home often leads to fatigue on the part of the wife, and conflict for the couple. The husband on the other hand may feel pressed into a role that he is not equipped or ready for. He may be called upon for skills in child rearing or homemaking that he has never been taught or prepared for and that builds resentment.
  • The "trailing spouse" syndrome can be another source of relationship stress. If one partner experiences significantly less professional success than the other, especially if that partner has made significant sacrifices for the sake of the other's career, resentment can build. Establishing and communicating priorities is the key; talking about it and having clear expectations about who can give up the job, take leave in emergencies, or relocate more easily makes things easier and less conflict ridden.
  • Marriage takes a back seat: The time commitment to career and family is heavy, and often the marriage has last priority especially when children come along. According to a study, a husband and wife who both work outside the home will, on average, spend less than 15 minutes a day talking with one another. There is no time for communication and therefore many dual-career couples have a high level of conflict that goes unresolved due to fatigue and lack of time to talk.

Strategies for couples

There are several strategies for managing the time, and in particular for making time for their personal lives:

  • The "no work after 10 PM" rule. They hasten to explain that they are each free to work after 10 PM, if they want to-but that if one of them doesn't want to, the other won't pressure him or her into it.
  • "Autonomy nights": scheduled evenings that are entirely their own time.
  • Dates: two evening dates per month, and two breakfast or lunch dates per month.
  • "Childcare lunches": when they need to discuss a parenting issue, they schedule a lunch date to discuss the issue.
  • Trading time: one works while the other takes care of the house and children's.
  • The other strategy have found helpful is distinguishing between their personal and professional relationships, and staying within their professional roles at work. They try to treat each other the same way they would treat any other colleague, to keep their personal lives from "spilling over" into work.
  • They need a lot of experimentation on "how" to do things. They need to be creative and flexible. Just because no one does it a certain way does not mean that they cannot.
  • The "standard" needs to be open for negotiation: this involves compromise. Tolerance and the ability to be satisfied with less than 100% are very important, especially for women who caught in the multiple roles want to do each thing as perfectly as possible. Being able to tolerate imperfection when work is being shared leads to fewer conflicts.
  • Roles and duties should be interchangeable: It gives a feeling of relief to know that once one partner starts doing something they won't be stuck with it forever or at least a very long time. Common tasks can always be exchanged after a certain time frame...within the constraints. For e.g. for 2 months one partner buys the rations and the next two months the other does. When a husband and wife cooperate and divide work equitably, they appear to be more satisfied with their combination of roles and the strain on the marriage will be lessened.
  • They need to enhance their marriage: Both spouses are typically more self-reliant and self-sufficient therefore they need to try harder to keep togetherness alive. They need to intentionally allow time for building a sense of intimacy. They need to take time out every night after the kids are settled or the work is done and just talk over a cup of coffee/ tea of what happened over the day. This has to be a priority. They could try and get out for a movie or a dinner at least once in a month...to remember what it feels like to be a couple. Forgiving often and freely is something that works wonders. With so much to juggle...things may get forgotten, mistakes will happen....and nothing works better than forgiving and moving on.

The brighter side....

Despite all of the challenges, there are some of the benefits which the couples appreciate in their dual careers:

  • Flexibility of time: If a couple have a two-year-old son; they've arranged their course schedules so that they're not working on the same days next fall. That way if he's sick one of them can easily stay home.
  • They can cover for each other. When one is sick or absent, the other can often step in and work for other.
  • Each understands the other's crazy work schedule. In fact, they share the same crazy work schedule, going on breaks at the same time. "The couple understands each other's challenges uniquely well, they are passionate about many of the same things, and they can help each other over the rough spots.
  • "There is considerable financial enhancement and therefore quality of life is enhanced. "Both husbands and wives report that it is very rewarding to be married to someone who is interesting, intelligent and powerful.


  • Develop a dual-career academic couple hiring protocol: Universities have much to gain by developing agreed-upon, written protocols or guidelines for the processes whereby requests for partner hires flow efficiently through the institution. Each institution needs to develop policies that are right for it. Well-developed protocols increase the transparency and fairness as well as the speed with which departments can vet potential candidates. Written protocols may also help cultivated departmental reciprocity in partner hiring.
  • Think of the university as an intellectual and corporate whole: Finding an appropriate fit for a qualified partner is one of the most difficult aspects of dual hiring and requires cooperation among departments across the university. Couple hiring may be an instance where the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts, and faculty should be encouraged to think of the university not as a set of autonomous departments but as an intellectual and corporate whole.
  • Use dual hiring to increase gender equality: Our data and practices at one of our participating universities suggest that recruiting women and underrepresented minorities as first (rather than second) hires may help universities address both diversity and equity issues. Women more than men tend to request positions for partners of equal academic rank.
  • Budget funds for dual hiring: Couple hiring is now part of the cost of doing business. Universities need to budget funds for partner hiring to increase the speed and agility with which they can place qualified partners.
  • Communicate with faculty: A general awareness of institutional goals and priorities as well as policies and practices surrounding couple hiring can lead to greater cooperation across the university as individual cases arise. The process of developing or refining protocols provides an excellent opportunity to saturate the scholarly community with information about partner hiring and to build greater consensus.
  • Make the partner issue easier to rise: Job candidates currently have much to lose by discussing the employment needs of a partner too soon (fearing that preference may consciously or unconsciously be given unencumbered candidates). At the same time, universities have much to lose by not finding out about partners early enough to act. Universities that are dual-career couple friendly should signal this in job announcements, recruitment materials, and university websites.
  • Interview potential partner hires: Departments asked to consider hiring a partner must do so carefully. Partners should go through a department's full review process. This will help build consensus within the department and, should the candidate be successful, contribute to a warm welcome for the new colleague.
  • Negotiate partner positions fully up front: Among dual-hired faculty who were dissatisfied with at least one aspect of the process, 27 percent thought that they did not receive what was promised during negotiations. Universities need to step up to dual hiring and make decisions about where and how partners will-or will not-fit into a particular institution at the time of hire. All promises need to be made in writing before either partner signs a contract.
  • Collaborate with neighboring institutions: The many Higher Education Recruitment Consortia (HERCs) springing up around the country provide new opportunities for institutions to coordinate job opportunities. It is important to publicize local HERCs effectively on campus so that dual-career couples, faculty, department chairs, and deans take advantage of these networks.
  • Develop dual-career programs: Universities should hire dedicated staff or outside consultants to assist faculty relocate. For partners of new or current faculty seeking academic positions, programs should appoint a senior faculty member to serve in an official capacity as special assistant, vice provost, or the like. This administrator will work with departments to place partners. For non-academic partners seeking employment, program staff or consultants should be available to assist in the on- or off-campus job search. Program staff may help all faculty with quality-of-life issues, such as locating good-quality housing, daycare, elder care, and schools in the area.
  • Evaluate dual-career programs: Universities need to collect data and evaluate their programs in order to (1) assist universities in overall strategic planning and (2) ensure equitable treatment of faculty partners-both academic and nonacademic.


  • sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career.../dual_career_couples_feature_index
  • www.selfhelpmagazine.com/articles/career-couples.php