Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know

Finalcover240 Stanford University's Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research yesterday released Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know.  The report is based on a study of 9,043 faculty at 13 major research universities: 

A key finding of the report is the partner status of full-time faculty:

  • Academic Partner:  36%
  • Employed, Non-academic Partner:  36%
  • Single:  14%
  • Stay-at-Home Partner:  13%

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Thanks for the post on the growing trend of dual placements for dual academic career couples. It's an important issue in today's economy where women are increasingly tied to demanding professional careers and men face increasing demands on the homefront. Both families/couples and higher ed institutions are struggling to negotiate the complexities of job matching under such conditions.

I have a few points to make about the previous comment describing academic postings in the humanities as "a racket" and "a rathole." First, you can thank the arts and humanities - e.g., studies of philosophy, literature, and aethestics - for establishing the foundation of the modern sciences. I do all the time because, while I am a quantitative sociologist with expertise in large survey research and advanced statistical analysis, I recognize that what we know today as the "hard" sciences (the term preferred over the word "real") emerged out of these "softer academic traditions. My own field of practice emerged out of a synthesis of the philosophical traditions of the humanities and the scientific methods of the hard sciences. What I see today is that the humanities continue to inspire novel thinking and applications in both the hard and social sciences. In fact, I would venture to say that the best "science" and certainly the best written expression comes from individuals who see the connection between the arts & humanities and science in general.

Second, academic postings in the humanities pay the lowest salaries and see the lowest academic placements rates in academia. Professors of english and philosophy make about 50 percent less than professors of business and law, for example. (See And last I heard, academic placement rates in the arts and humanities were around 20 percent. The rest of those PhDs find jobs outside the ivory tower.

This means that the opportunity cost of working in academia for these professors is already much higher than it is for professors in other fields. I am on the job market this year myself and I can tell you that private industry is willing to pay a lot more for my services now than I could ever find in academia. So from my perspective this differential return to my educational investment is very real. Talk to a few English professors and you will likely hear that many such scholars can barely "afford" to stay in academia. When they do decide to stay it is often to satisfy very definite non-economic motives.

In sum, it is very much worth our while to invest our collective capital in the arts and humanities. These scholars keep alive a very important part of the history of science and continue to inspire modern day scientific practice. Also, keep in mind the relative "economic" sacrifice these scholars make in order to make this important contribution to society. They ain't doing it for the money -- even as dual career couples.

Posted by: Amanda Elam | Aug 21, 2008 4:28:41 PM

The biggest problem with academic couples is that one spouse is often more accomplished and successful than the other. Many universities, in their desire to snag the successful spouse, are forced to give the "tagalong" a teaching position as well.

I can't tell you how many times I've taken a mediocre course taught by the less-than-stellar spouse of a tenured professor. Academics is one of the few fields where nepotism isn't frowned upon. All too often, it is the norm.

Posted by: Michelle C. | Aug 21, 2008 3:27:37 PM

Among academics married to academics, how many are married to persons in similar fields? How many of those in the Humanities, for example, have spouses in the Humanities? How many academics in the real sciences have spouses similarly employed? Those in the second category are not cause for concern, but consider a husband and wife who teach, say, English literature and ethnic studies. Their combined income would probably place them among the richest 10% percent. And for what? They sit around with students and talk about Austen and courtship rituals in South Philadelphia. What a fabulously genteel and priveledged existence they have. What a racket! How much of our collective wealth gets poured down that rathole? We could save a fortune by having all such useless pursuits and degrees readily available online. Students, whenever they are ready, could pay a small proctoring fee, take their tests, and get their degrees. The rest of us would be spared the fleecing.

Posted by: Lewin Wickes | Aug 21, 2008 8:58:37 AM