Physicists are increasingly faced with the "two-body problem," i.e. the difficulty of finding two professional jobs (possibly two physics jobs) in the same geographic location. This problem has a particularly acute impact on women, in part because 43% of married female physicists are married to other physicists, whereas only 6% of married male physicists have a physicist spouse. The fact that the density of available jobs for physicists is low in most places at any particular time means that the challenge of the dual job search can have a significant effect on a physicist's career. The two-body problem also poses a challenge for institutions that hire physicists, as it is increasingly likely that the top candidate in a search will have a spouse who is also seeking professional employment. Lack of suitable employment for the spouse can lead a candidate to reject a job offer, or to leave a job after a few years if the spouse can find a better situation elsewhere. The frustration of unemployment and underemployment can also cause some to leave physics altogether, representing a net loss to the profession. As these employment problems are more acute for women, lack of attention to dual-career issues can hamper efforts to increase the representation of qualified women in physics.
In this article, we present the results of a survey on this subject that we conducted over the World Wide Web in 1998. We asked about the experiences of physicist (and other scientist) couples in finding employment for both partners in the same location, and about solutions that had proved successful. From the responses, we are able to describe the various ways in which the two-body problem manifests itself, as well as offer solutions for institutions and individuals to try.
II. WHY SHOULD INSTITUTIONS BE CONCERNED? The key to finding solutions to the challenges faced by dual-career couples is first to recognize that it is in the interests of all concerned to respond proactively to the situation. The interests of the job-seekers in such action is obvious, but it is also true that addressing the situation can benefit the institutions doing the hiring and the physics profession as a whole. In recent years some areas of physics employment have experienced a "buyer's market," in which the number of applicants greatly exceeds the number of available positions. This has led some institutions to conclude that with so many qualified applicants available, it is possible to restrict consideration to only those candidates without spousal complications. Since such an action can be argued to constitute discrimination on the basis of marital status, it is not one that is easily defended. Institutions that simply ignore the two-body problem, making no effort to assist their chosen candidates in finding employment for their spouses, can find themselves unable to hire the individuals they wish if the spouse cannot find a satisfactory job in the area. Even if the candidate accepts the job, he or she may soon leave it if better prospects for employment of the spouse become available elsewhere.
For the profession as a whole, it is important to recognize that the dual-career problem represents a significant barrier to the enhancement of the representation of women in physics. As noted above, female physicists are far more likely to be married to physicists than are male physicists. The difficulty of finding two scientific jobs in one place extends beyond physics, of course, and over 68% of married female physicists are married to scientists (compared to only 17% of male physicists). Women constitute only 6% of U.S. physicists overall, but 35% of all female physicists 31 years old or younger, and women represent 14% of that age group. 44% of these women are married (vs. 36% of the men). This means that, although the number of women who are (or are about to be) at the point of seeking a permanent career position is increasing, almost one third of them will do so with the complication of a spouse who is also seeking scientific employment. Though statistics on this point are difficult to obtain, anecdotal evidence (including the results of our survey) indicate that dual-career employment difficulties lead in many cases to women leaving physics altogether because they cannot find satisfactory employment. This means that institutions' lack of attention to dual-career employment issues contributes to the "leaky pipeline" of women in physics, and thus to the loss of the talents of a large pool of scientists.