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Two-body problem (career)

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The two-body problem is a dilemma for life partners (e.g., spouses or any other couple) often referred to in academia, relating to the difficulty of both spouses obtaining jobs at the same university, narrow specialism, or within a reasonable commuting distance from each other.

The inability of one partner to accommodate the other produces this central dilemma, which is a no-win situation in which if the couple wishes to stay together one of them may be forced to abandon an academic career, or if both wish to pursue academic careers the relationship may falter due to the spouses being constantly separated.[1] The term two-body problem has been used in the context of working couples since at least the mid-1990s.[1][2] It alludes to the two-body problem in classical mechanics.

More than 70 percent of academic faculty in the United States are in a relationship where both partners work, and more than a third of faculty have a partner who also works in academia.[3]

Traditionally, this problem was solved by wives who supported their husbands' careers by interrupting their own, often combined with an academic advancement system that actively discriminated against women and especially married women.[4] Some past overt sexism has been ameliorated, and many universities have instituted spousal hiring programs or other creative approaches to the problem.[5] Nevertheless, gendered pressure to compromise persists[6] and causes a disproportionate number of women to leave the academic workforce.[7]

See also



  1. ^ a b Benton, Thomas H. (pen name of William Pannapacker) (2009). "Just Don't Go, Part 2". The Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 March 2009, accessed 21 June 2012.
  3. ^ Londa Schiebinger; Andrea Davies Henderson; Shannon K. Gilmartin. "Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know". The Clayman Institute for Gender Research. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  4. ^ Shover, Michele (Spring 1978). "Married Academic Women: "Go to the End of the Line"". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 3 (1): 56–61. doi:10.2307/3345994. JSTOR 3345994.
  5. ^ Landau, Susan (2005). "Universities and the two-body problem" (PDF). In Case, Bettye Anne; Leggett, Anne M. (eds.). Complexities: Women in Mathematics. Princeton University Press. pp. 253–255. ISBN 0-691-11462-5.
  6. ^ Wong, Jaclyn (16 March 2017). "Competing Desires: How Young Adult Couples Negotiate Moving for Career Opportunities". Gender & Society. 31 (2): 171–196. doi:10.1177/0891243217695520. S2CID 152139751.
  7. ^ Larson, Samantha June; Miller, Annie; Drury, Ida (May 2020). "Reflections on tenure, the two-body problem, and retention in the 21st century academy". Journal of Public Affairs Education. 26 (4): 506–530. doi:10.1080/15236803.2020.1759346. S2CID 219415508.