The Travails of the Trailing Spouse


What’s it like to play second fiddle in a two-career academic couple? Considering the very high propensity of female scientists to partner romantically with other scientists, as well as universities’ growing enthusiasm for two-job offers as a way of attracting topflight hires, this is a question that affects a significant number of people.

Commentary on the subject of the “two-body problem”—the issue of finding work for the professionally qualified partner of a sought-after academic—usually focuses on universities’ dual-career policies or applicants’ tactics for negotiating the hire. In an illuminating essay at Inside Higher Ed, however, an anonymous trailing spouse (who has a tenure-track job at a research institution and a “superstar” spouse) discusses issues that arise after the two-person employment deal is consummated. They include inequities in treatment that can morph into inequality, not being taken seriously, impostorism, a perceived need to overachieve, and actually feeling inferior.

The “stigmatized identity” of a tenure-track faculty member probably doesn’t attract too much sympathy from the many would-be academics unable to land such a post, as some of the comments on this article make clear. For trailing spouses or people who are considering it, however, the essay provides useful insights into what the experience is like. You can find it here.

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