(a) Design and implementation of the survey
In order to assess the extent of the dual-career couple problem, to examine its effects on the scientific community and to learn about possible solutions that have proven successful, we conducted a Web-based survey in 1998. Because our primary goal was to obtain information about approaches that institutions might take to the problem, we did not attempt to use rigorous statistical sampling techniques or sophisticated quantitative analysis of the responses.
In designing the survey, the first question to be considered was the nature of the group to be studied. The dual-career couple problem is a major problem throughout society, and is neither restricted to academia nor to the scientific community. However, the physics community stands out in two respects. First, it is one of the few with such a large gender disparity (6% of U.S. physicists are women), and thus the dual-career couple problem has a much greater disproportionate effect on women in physics than in other occupations. Second, the density of positions is relatively low, leading to much greater difficulty in finding positions in the same location for both members of a couple. Thus, we concentrated on the physics community. We did not distinguish between couples who were married and those who were partnered but not married, and throughout the report the terms "spouse" and "partner" are used interchangeably.
Although we were particularly interested in couples in which both were physicists, we were also very interested in couples with one physicist and one non-physics scientist, since many of these couples have very similar difficulties to two-physicist couples (and different issues can arise in academia when two departments are involved). There are, of course, a large number of physicists married to non-scientists, but we simply couldn't cover all possibilities (although we did welcome responses from physicists married to non-scientists in academia, since many of the issues involved are similar).
In addition to obtaining the demographics of our respondents and their partners (gender, age, current positions, children, career goals), the focus of the survey was their responses to open-ended questions asking about the problems that they (and others) had faced, institutional responses, and possible solutions. The survey was Web-based, for several reasons: most physicists have ready access to the Web, it was much cheaper than mailing thousands of surveys around the country, and it was easy for us to analyze the results.
With the help of David Aday and Susan Bosworth (sociologists at William and Mary) we prepared a preliminary version of the survey. We then performed a trial run in late 1997 by asking members of two listservs (WiPHYS---the women in physics listserv of the APS, and clim-fys, a listserv established some years ago by the Forum on Physics and Society) to respond and to comment on the survey. We received a few dozen responses, and quite a few good suggestions. We incorporated these suggestions into a final version of the survey, which contained 26 questions. Eight of the questions required narrative answers. The 26 questions appear in Appendix A.
To inform the physics community of the survey, we arranged for e-mail messages to be sent out in January 1998 to the above listservs and to the memberships of the Forum on Physics and Society, the Forum on Education and the Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics. We sent flyers to every college and university physics department in the country, and posted notices in Physics Today and APS News. In April, we had reminder e-mail messages sent out. We began reading and analyzing the results in June 1998. We read these narratives individually. No record was kept of the identity of the respondents, and any information that could be used to identify respondents will not appear in this report.
We were delighted by the overwhelming response to the survey. We received 620, many with very detailed answers to some of the questions. Included in this number were a dozen sent via mail (the survey had been printed off the website, and mailed), an option we had provided for respondents concerned about internet privacy. Given that the membership of the APS is roughly 40,000, that the number of women physicists is 6% of the total, that 51% of these are married, and that 68% of these are married to scientists, one finds that the number of female physicists married to scientists (in the United States) is approximately 830. Given that sample size, a survey response rate of several hundred was spectacular, and indicates that our survey does give an accurate picture of the current situation. The large response also indicates that the subject of the survey is an area of serious concern to the responding population.
Of the respondents, 89% had partners who were scientists (the remainder were often in academia), thus this study really did focus on dual-career science couples. Approximately half of the respondents were dual-career physics couples; in the other half, either the respondent or the partner was in another scientific field (although many listed astronomy or engineering--the lines separating these fields from physics are not always easy to draw). 57% of the respondents were women.
The age distribution was interesting. The female respondents had a mean age of 37.2; the male respondents had a mean age of 40.1. The median ages were two years lower (there were more 60-year-old respondents than 20-year-old). An important statistic in understanding the two-body problem is the age difference between the two partners. For each respondent, we determined the age of the male partner minus the age of the female partner. The average result was 2.1 years, and for only 15% of the respondents was the woman older. This means that the male partner will typically be further advanced in his career. As a result, when the dual-career couple problem becomes intractable, and one member of the couple must give up (or scale back) his or her career, it is generally much more likely that the woman will do so.
Given the average ages of the respondents, it is not surprising that the majority of them (and their partners) were looking for a faculty position during their most recent job search. Although the majority of APS members are in industry, most respondents were primarily interested in academic positions. This difference may have been influenced by the greater difficulty of informing potential respondents outside of academia of the existence of the survey. In the answer to question #10, for example, 20% said that they were searching for a postdoc, 64% for a faculty job, 25% for an industrial job and 20% for a government laboratory job (15% answered "other"). Obviously, many were looking at more than one possibility. The responses for their partners were similar. In the answer to the question of what type of job was ultimately taken, the results were similarly balanced, with 13% taking a postdoc, 32% taking a faculty job, 13% taking an industrial job and 14% taking a government laboratory position. The rest (22%) took a variety of positions, including a large number of soft-money and part-time positions. In response to the questions about whether or not their long-term and short-term goals have been affected by the dual-science-career problem, 45% responded that their long-term goals have not been affected, but only 14% responded that their short-term goals have not been affected. It thus appears that the overwhelming majority of respondents have had to make significant sacrifices due to this problem.
One of the most important questions was #16: "In your most recent job search, did you or your partner take a lower-level science job, non-scientific job (or no job) as a result of issues involved in dual-science-career couples"? Of those responding to this question, 60% answered that they or their partner had to take a lower-level science or non-scientific job in their most recent job search. This response is the key to understanding the impact of the dual career couple problem. The majority of respondents had to scale back their careers (or leave physics altogether) due to this problem. Most of these respondents were women, confirming that the problem disproportionately affects women.
Of much greater importance than the statistics, however, were the detailed narrative responses. We learned a great deal about the nature of the two-body problem, and learned of some interesting solutions. We now turn to a more detailed discussion of the problem, and then look at some potential solutions.