On Job Hunting While Married

professor robin williamsHere’s a cheerful story about a female academic whose potential employers were queasy about her marital status. This is known in the ivory tower as “the two-body problem.”

my marital status kept popping up in preliminary interviews, campus visits, and even in discussions with my letter writers. “What would your poor husband do?” emerged as a refrain in my job search. One of my recommenders repeatedly asked whether I would take jobs if they were offered. Later, I wondered if married male colleagues had to endure similar conversations. Did their spouses figure so heavily in the calculations of recommenders and interviewers? Were their wedding rings analyzed? Were their poor wives influencing possible job offers? Apparently not. Writing in The New York Times, English professor Caroline Bicks describes how her husband emerged as a “problem” in her job search, whereas no one ever asked him about his wife. “It felt as if my wedding ring was a hurdle I had to clear to prove my commitment to academia,” she writes, “while Brendon’s was a badge of stability and good-guy gravitas.”

And oh God it gets worse:

My husband, Chris, is also an academic, a computational scientist, requiring us to navigate two careers and apply to academic jobs everywhere. Marriage affected our job searches differently: It was a liability for mine and a boon for his. Hiring committees imagined Chris as the male head of household, someone who needed a job to support his wife and child. Interviewers viewed my academic strivings as hobbies. We both went on the job market determined to do what was best for our family. And before long, I became a trailing spouse — first an adjunct, then a lecturer, now outside of academia. It turns out it was easier to resist traditional gender norms before I was beset by the grim statistics of our situation and the outdated notions fueling them.

To some degree, women are also at fault for letting it happen. They don’t lean in to their job searches the way their husbands do, apparently. They are more willing to back-burner their careers, to make sacrifices, to be treated badly. And then, of course, they are.

Academics! Some tips. Practice saying the following before you go on interviews:

+ “Husband? What husband?”

+ “It’s his lifetime ambition to be a stay-at-home dad.”

+ “He can work remotely from anywhere!”

+ “I’m the Barack in this family, okay? He’s the Michelle.”

+ “Enough about my marriage; let’s talk about yours!”

+ “That? No, that just stands for ‘Pretty Handsome Dude.’”

Or just marry a woman instead and take turns being the wife.



15 Comments / Post A Comment

Aconite (#6,401)

My husband’s lifetime ambition IS to be a stay-at-home dad and people don’t seem to like that, either. (Disclaimer: I’m not an academic, but I do work in a traditionally male field.)

@Aconite dammit

Aconite (#6,401)

@Ester Bloom
Thought you’d found a solution, eh? Try again! Stands to reason people will be suspicious of girly men with dubious life ambitions.

pterodactylish (#2,321)

@Aconite People find it so weird when I say my boyfriend wants this.

ATF (#4,229)

@pterodactylish I have a guy friend that wants nothing more to be a stay at home dad. He loooooooooooves cooking and puttering around the house and babies. And I can totally see him doing this when he finally does marry.

Aconite (#6,401)

@pterodactylish I don’t even bother saying it anymore. Once someone told me that he would cause our hypothetical children to die because he is a man. Mind you, someone else once asked me if it is “difficult” to be married to him because he is Asian and I am not, so, y’know, people.

Worgchef (#6,838)

Isn’t this essentially illegal?


I am staunchly pro liberal arts and college-for-college’s-sake, but in some ways higher ed is ridiculously retrograde.

BillfoldMonkey (#1,754)

@Worgchef It’s totally illegal. Unfortunately, academia is such a hirer’s market that tenure-track candidates are completely disincentivized from doing anything about it. If there are (literally) three jobs in your field in the entire country in a given hiring season, you don’t feel like you have a lot of leeway to alienate your potential employers. I wish the Modern Love essay had at least mentioned the illegality of it though.

@Worgchef It’s also illegal to ask a candidate if she’s pregnant, but that still happened to a friend of mine once when she was interviewing with med schools. The worst part is that she WASN’T even. Both she and the interviewer were totally flustered and she ended up going elsewhere.

BillfoldMonkey (#1,754)

@Ester Bloom Good lord, why are people asking this question EVER, let along in a job interview situation??

@Worgchef Ayyyyyup. I also wish the article had mentioned that.

It’s so illegal, but so common. Orrrr people will a)dig/hint at the information in a horrible roundabout fashion, OR they’ll be like my asshole family member and just blanket refuse to hire young women because they’ll just pop out babies and become useless, anyway.

The last time I job searched, I took off my wedding/engagement ring for interviews and did my level best to avoid the subject of any personal/outside life at all. I even had to reschedule an interview that was supposed to happen during my honeymoon, and had to do a little dance around avoiding explaining why I’d be out of town and away from all phones for a week.

My husband, on the other hand, has gotten explicit props for being a steady married man when on the job market. If I made better money, he’d be a part-time/SAHD if and when we had kids. I’m the one with the rampant ambition. It’s such utter bullshit.

EHF (#3,607)

I’m on the second year of tenure track after negotiating the job market two years ago. I also have a spouse in the same field, who is also employed by my university (although not in a TT job).

I was given a lot of contradictory advice about introducing my spouse when on interviews; I decided to not bring my spouse up in an interview, and 99.9999% of universities have explicit policies prohibiting interview questions about spouses and families. While it was difficult–some long pauses during discussions of living in the university town, schools, and partners–I think this is the right choice for those that *need* a job, a job that is not contingent on a spousal hire (= a hire for the spouse at the same school).

BillfoldMonkey (#1,754)

@EHF Yes. Having been on hiring committees, it was super-hard for me not to just bring this up as part of getting-to-know-you chat over dinner or the like (and some candidates just volunteered the issue without any prompting) and I had mad respect for anyone who could make it through a 2 or 3 day campus visit without disclosing. It is 100% irrelevant to job performance.

I’ll note, though, that through a couple of different searches, the ones who just volunteered the info were uniformly married straight men, presumably because they felt (not wrongly in my department, unfortunately) that this would be seen as an asset.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

My college major was globally focused, and when I first started interviewing for international jobs that required a lot of travel, whether or not I had children was asked in a sort of hinting way in a lot of the phone interviews (e.g. “The schools are pretty good around here, I don’t know if that would interest you..” and a minute or two later “We haven’t had many women in this role, because the travel can be hard if you have a family…”)

Most of it was phrased as statements rather than direct questions, and I answered without volunteering any info – “I don’t have any concern about the travel; it’s part of what interests me in this role”. I couldn’t prove that they were trying to ask if I had kids, but it definitely seemed like it.

clo (#4,196)

the last suggestion is slightly offensive…?

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