Beki Grinter

The Marriage Advantage for some Faculty

In academia, academic management, computer science, discipline, women on January 28, 2013 at 10:56 am

I was just catching up on Female Science Professor’s blog (fabulous). Last year she asked “why don’t more senior women in STEM blog?

I’ve been quiet on my blog for a while, I had lost touch with it. It was out of my routine. So it sat quietly.

Recently I read this article about the advantages of being married for male academics versus the disadvantages of being married for women academics. It’s left me with a lot of questions.

Female professors were more likely to have a spouse or partner with a doctoral degree, 54.7 percent to men’s 30.9 percent. Their partners were also more likely to work in academe, 49.6 percent to 36.3 percent.

I wonder whether the same is true in Computing? I was thinking of my department, counting up the numbers of men and women married to other academics. There’s a difference.

A woman is quoted with her theory about why the balance is the way it is, she says

“I have a theory about this,” said Tara Nummedal, an associate professor of history at Brown University. “It seems pretty clear that smart women are going to find men who are engaged, but I just don’t see that it works the other way.”

I have another theory, based on my experience of dating, which is that some men find dating women with doctorates (when they don’t have one) difficult. I recall with some pain a date in which I was subjected to something that felt a bit like being on a quiz show. Yes, I happen to know what the second longest river in the U.S. is the Mississippi since the first longest is the Missouri, but I didn’t need to spend an evening playing this game. And, more crucially, a Ph.D. is not actually about being good at quiz questions. You can guess that the relationship didn’t last long, but this experience was emblematic of the problems I had dating non-Ph.D’s.

She added that a female professor with a stay-at-home spouse is quite rare, but often sees men with stay-at-home wives, allowing them to fully commit themselves to their professions.

I’ve wondered this before also. In one job I had, where I was one of a very small number of women, two of us were single and the other married to an academic. There were some single men in the department, but it was a small fraction of the entire department and a healthy number of my male colleagues, including all the managers, had stay-at-home wives. At that time being married to someone who could take care of all the things that arise in life that require being dealt with during office hours seemed like a huge advantage to me. Some of it was probably that I was often lonely (I had very much made my employment decision because I knew it would advance my career and not my personal life, that was hard, but I think it was crucial for getting to the next steps where I was able to balance both). Years later, I’m not sure whether it’s an advantage or not, because I’ve not ever experienced it. I have no comparison points, nor am I sure that the division of labor that I’ve described is ideal (accurate, enthusiastically embraced)… and I am more aware that my salary is a luxury that these families do not have. But, returning to the point of the article, I think it’s important to pay attention to the last part of the sentence, if there is the possibility for someone to fully commit themselves because that’s what the relationship supports, then yes, I still think that is a type of advantage.

I’ll cover another piece of this article later. That’s enough for now.

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  1. I’m responding anonymously, as a recently completed PhD (female) who has contemplated the academic track but has chosen not to pursue it at this point for a number of reasons.

    I’ve certainly thought about many of the issues you raise in this post, as similar dynamics play out in grad school (more male students have wives who take care of home/life, rather than female students who have husbands that manage things), although to a much less degree than as faculty.

    A potentially related thought I’ve had: Given all the very talented academic couplings, am I at a disadvantage on the academic market? How could I, just me alone (single), even if I’m a superstar, compete with a partnered team of superstars? Or even a partnered team of one superstar and one perfectly competent and capable partner? A university would give up two faculty slots to get the one superstar.

    I’d love your perspective as to whether or not this is an issue for future single female candidates to worry about. It’s not an easy issue to bring up with male faculty advisors with either partners within the institution or as stay-at-home wives.

  2. I would love to hear from other people? My impression is that dual body hiring is complicated. Perhaps in some cases its easier, but to the dual body being hired they are still looking for two slots… and in a tight labor market that can seem like a very daunting prospect. So in the end I suspect it all washes out. But that’s just my perspective. I am sorry you don’t have mentors to talk to about this, I am very empathetic to the difficulties of not having someone understand your situation though. Its another reason that we have to diversify the field, so that no-one feels alone in seeking advice.

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