Today in a conversation with a colleague, my husband was stunned when the colleague made a somewhat bitter remark about how much easier my husband’s life is than his because my husband has a professor-spouse and therefore two salaries. This and some comments that followed offended my husband because he felt that the colleague was saying that one of us should work for lower pay and not be such an economic burden on the department. Perhaps there would be more salary money for those in one-salary families if the two of us weren’t sucking up so much of the department’s cash to fund our lavish lifestyle? I am exaggerating -- this colleague would never state his opinion so crudely. Even so, what millennium is he living in that he thinks that my husband and/or I should make a lower salary because we both work?
And why stop with penalizing members of two-career couples? Why should single/childless faculty get paid more than a meager amount when they are just going to spend their money on themselves? Why don’t we scale faculty salary according to the number of children and dogs that each person has? Cats should count as well, but they don’t seem to be as expensive as dogs, so there would have to be a different coefficient for cats in the salary equation unless n(cats) > 12. I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone, but I would not include a salary adjustment for rodents or reptiles, and I am ambivalent about fish and birds. Should boy offspring count the same as girl offspring and/or should the offspring coefficient be adjusted for age and desire for high-end audio/video/computer equipment? [end of bizarre hyperbolic rant]
[start of serious blog-text] My husband’s negative reaction to this conversation was based in part on a long history of our both being underpaid relative to our colleagues in the department. The previous chair considered us an Economic Unit and saw no reason why either one of us should be paid according to our merits since together we made a decent salary.
The previous chair, as well as the person my husband was talking to today, are both in one-salary families, with wives who stay(ed) home with the kids. That’s their choice, of course, but it should be irrelevant to departmental decisions about faculty salary.
Perhaps it is harder for some of our colleagues to deal with our Economic Unitness because we are both Science Professors. If one of us were in a different career, would some of our colleagues still think the professor in the couple should be paid less, or would it be different because only one salary was coming from the department/university?
It struck me as kind of amusing that this colleague envies our situation. Salary considerations aside, I am sure he faces challenges in terms of balancing career and family, but I am fairly sure that he doesn’t have some of the difficulties that we do; for example, a sick kid or a no-school day doesn’t throw his work day into chaos. He probably also doesn’t realize that for years we spent half of our combined salary on day care. None of that should matter, however, to the simple fact that members of an academic couple should each be paid a fair salary, no matter how many spouses, offspring, or pets we have.
6 years ago