Numbers Show That Couples Move for a Man's Job, but Not a Woman's

Julia Novakovich  |

Image via nikki/Flickr CC

In two-income families, there are times when the couple must move to advance one of the partner’s careers. These moves are often financially advantageous, but can strain marriages. The trailing spouse, the spouse who is does not have a specific advancing job in the new location, often finds that their career and earnings are hurt.

Many studies have shown that families or couples are more likely to move for a husband’s job than for a woman’s. There has been a base assumption that this comes from a kind of basic sexism; that families are more likely to move for the man’s job because it is the job that supports the family. A study published in Demography found, however, that the very nature of the jobs that men and women gravitate towards contributes to occupational relocation.

Men’s Jobs More Geographically Clustered

The professions that men are most likely to enter, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers, law careers, and business professionals and entrepreneurs, are more likely to be in concentrated urban centers.

When men change locations in order to advance their careers, they are more likely to need to move a longer distance with more significant effects on their family.

Women Can Work “Anywhere”

The careers that women traditionally gravitate towards, such as nursing, teaching, and social workers, tend to be careers that are needed everywhere. This makes it easier for women to leave behind an old job and find a new one without a lot of forewarning. They also are less likely to need to make a big move to advance their career. They can move within school districts, within medical practices, or within departments, for example, and see big gains.

How Can Remote Working Disrupt This Tendency?

As more businesses embrace flex time and remote work, it may be that fewer men need to dramatically relocate to advance their careers. They may be able to work out a system of telecommuting, web work, and occasionally business travel that allows them to fulfil a role at a distant company without needing to uproot their family.

Small businesses owned by women have also seen a dramatic increase in the last decade, and there are no signs that the trend towards increase is likely to stop. Women may be able to run consulting businesses, financial businesses, or internet businesses that can be headquartered anywhere. So, their relocation may have less effect on their career than moving to a new job location and essentially beginning again.

What Other Factors May Change This Pattern?

Two major factors may cause these statistics to begin to shift over the next few decades. Women are being encouraged more and more strongly to consider positions in STEM fields. While there are many issues still at the institutional level, women are pushing harder to make inroads as engineers, programmers, and more. As women gain positions that are more equivalent to what men are doing in these fields, families may be able to make more equitable decisions about how to move in ways that respect the entire family, instead of assuming that the wife will be the trailing spouse.

The other primary factor is that the world of startup entrepreneurship is beginning to diversify. Silicon Valley is now too expensive for the vast majority of entrepreneurs; many of them are finding their start in places like Richmond, Denver, Austin, Atlanta, and more. Because of the ability to find exceptional talent around the world, and the move away from teams that have to meet around a physical table week after week, businesses are able to operate in more diverse, business friendly locations.

How Do Couples Manage A Work Related Move?

If a couple needs to move for one person’s job, what is the best way to manage that change? After all, if it is agreed that the trailing spouse may suffer in terms of their career, that person may have frustration and apprehension about the move in general.

Couples should expect that these emotions can occur. They should be proactive about addressing concerns and speaking openly about what is happening and how they feel. A few sessions with a counselor might be helpful to clear the air and make sure everyone is on the same page. This can also help avoid resentments down the road.

Relocating for a job can be an exciting and fulfilling move, but it can also be stressful and frightening, especially if it’s a spouse’s job that is causing the move. By being aware of the reasons that this happens as well as the effect on the trailing spouse, many of the moving difficulties can be avoided.

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