Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stay At Home

What % of faculty in your department have stay-at-home spouses?

How should you classify those faculty whose spouses stayed at home while the kids were young and then went back to work? I would not include them in my own count of stay-at-home spouses. My own calculation represents the % who have stay-at-home spouses right now, including those without kids but with a non-working spouse or long-term significant other.

I would also not include in my SAH category those faculty whose spouses have part-time jobs. Let's count employed spouses as employed spouses.

What is the % faculty with stay-at-home spouses in your department today?
pollcode.com free polls


Anonymous said...

What about faculty whose spouses work with them in the lab and then claim that they've never had a need for administrative support in the lab?

Anonymous said...

We have a higher percentage of single faculty in our department then we do faculty with spouses who work. Interestingly, most of the dual career families in our department are dual science families -- all but one of the dual career couples have a partner who is in academics (faculty in our or another department/ post-doc). The exception to this is a couple whose partner just went back for a new degree and just went back to work post-kids.

We live in an area where it's pretty inexpensive to live.

Anonymous said...

I think people with a stay at home spouse should have an asterisk next to their name on their CVs and tenure documents, like baseball players who've taken steroids.

Anonymous said...

What about those faculty who have "stay at lab" spouses? I.e. the spouse works as lab manager or lab tech, as well as taking care of everything on the home front? We have several of these in our dept, and it's always a male PI with a female subordinate... makes me sad.

Anonymous said...

ROFL @ Anonymous 6:19... so true!

@ Anonymous 6:51: how are you defining 'subordinate'?

John Vidale said...

I'm seeing two criticisms of "unfair" modern academic practice somewhat at odds with each other:

1. MSPs tend to have higher salaries than some FSPs.

2. Many more MSPs have stay-at-home or lab helper spouses who free them from time-consuming chores which burden FSPs than FSPs have similar help.

Another factor likely present but not mentioned:

3. Dual-faculty families have significantly higher incomes overall than single-faculty families, as well as less mobility, and less ability to spend all hours in the lab.

It would not be a huge leap to argue that more hours dedicated to work gets more work done.

Further, stay-at-home spouses may choose that lifestyle, and criticizing them for their choice strikes me as high-handed.

In some ways, the choice to form dual-scientist couples (like mine) is a choice to have one's mobility limited, hours in the lab curtailed, and salary handicapped, which does not always lead to debtor's prison.

While I'm sure unfairness abounds, so does grass-is-greener complaints even when there is not unfairness.

Anonymous said...

What about faculty members with retired spouses? I chose not to count them as stay-at-home...

Anonymous said...

I am a FSP with a stay-in-lab spouse (it's how we met). Though, we split the home responsibilities fairly evenly. It makes our lifestyle possible in a way that another working situation would not. People always look at us a little oddly. So, it does happen the other way, if rarely.

Buttered Toast Master said...

What's with all the hate toward faculty spouses? Anon 6:19 compares SAH spouses to steroid use and others belittle the spouse/assistants. FSP talks about financially sacrificing for the sake of research (using summer salary for equipment and such). How is having a SAH spouse or spouse assistant any different? They both involve personal financial loss for the sake of advancing your academic career.

Similarly, any relationship with two working professionals (even non-academics) are in a weaker position when it comes to bargaining because any move is a 2 body problem. Yet, they have more income so forgoing summer salary for the sake of equipment is a possibility.

Every choice is a compromise.

Anonymous said...

this is Anon 6:51

So, in my department there are several male faculty whose wives are essentially technicians in their lab. Their job is to pick up after their big-wig spouse not only at home but also in the lab. Even if these women have on-paper authority (research professorship etc), the faculty (sometimes including their husbands) certainly don't consider them equals (ignored in faculty meetings, never promoted to full prof, no grad students, no teaching, no independent publications etc).

I've got no problem with faculty spouses who are reasonably independent. That is, they have their own lab space, offices, grad students, etc.

Anonymous said...

John wrote:
"MSPs tend to have higher salaries than some FSP"

Boy, is that an understatement. The data say that FPs of any kind have, on average, a lower salary than MP peers with similar backgrounds and experience. Just google "faculty salaries by gender", and you'll turn up reports from several university self studies.

Why yes, the grass is greener (for this issue) if you're male.

Ace said...

I recently noticed with amazement that every single female academic friend of mine who managed to get a faculty position have partners who sacrificed from their careers. Every single one. This includes me... They're not stay at home per se, but their career is secondary. I also have quite a few friends whose partners are academic, who are postdoccing and every single couple that i can think of right now, the male is the one whose career is put first/ahead.
I know I am only one person but there is a really clear pattern around me that amazed me when I first started thinking about this (a few weeks ago). It seems like if you want a PI position, get your partner to support you by stepping back. I know it's not black & white and there are plenty of examples of dual academic couples, but a supportive partner goes a really long way! Our careers are all going well. I/we feel that we are fortunate to have this situation.
Is it unfair? Should I put on my CV with an asterisk. Give me a break! Will you give me extra brownie points for not being white, being foreign born and having a disability and so on... Then you can take 1/8th of a point for my supportive husband. Plus why should I be penalized for choosing a partner who understands my dedication to my career and supports it. And I in turn, take my breadwinner duties seriously.
It used to be women who took the stay at home position, now it's changing that we see more men int hat position too. But one thing is constant: There workload of an academic career (or maybe modern work in general) is so heavy that to be competitive, one really benefits from a partner at home (or lots of money to afford help, which in an academic career is not going to happen unless independently wealthy...)
I'd love for there to be a culture change such that people can work a reasonable amount and spend time with their families and hobbies and still succeed. But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for it...
I'd like to also clarify that our partners are not boring, washed out wallflowers in the backdrop of our careers. They're amazing, fun, unique, intelligent and kind individuals each contributing in so many ways to our lives. My family and my career are both aspects of life and part of who I am, not things I can slice & separate - certainly not comparable to steroids!

John Vidale said...

anon@11:01 correctly noted my statement

I wrote MSPs tend to have higher salaries than some FSP

is not sound.

I meant MSPs tend to have higher salaries than FSPs, but got distracted mid-edit.

I certainly wouldn't dispute the salary disparity, just note there may be some factors that are not fairness issues.

Kate said...

In my department, there are only a handful. In my husband's department he is the only one WITHOUT a stay at home spouse of the non-single folks. I am in a department that straddles life/social sciences; my husband is in a physical science.

FemaleSciPostdoc said...

John V makes a very good point about career choices. It's true that it is much easier to put in long hours if you have a SAH spouse taking care of all home duties/kids etc. That spouse chooses to sacrifice in terms of income earned and their careers, etc, for gained flexibility and support of their spouse's career. That's a completely fair choice.

I think the broader issue is why the academy makes it so difficult to have a decent work-life balance. I would argue that, while hard work is necessary for success in any field, one should not have to work 80 hours/week to gain tenure/promotion. This system was put in place when the predominant culture was white male with SAH wives. This is no longer the case and should be updated.

Everyone chooses their own path and we should be supportive of those choices. Now it's time for the academy to step up and be supportive of their faculty.

Yup, I'm young and naive (and probably way too idealistic), but I'm hopeful that our generation of scientists/professors/faculty can help continue the hard work that the previous generation of FSPs started. If we don't start pushing for a better balance, nothing will change.

Alex said...

So, before you put an asterisk on the CV's of people whose spouses either don't work, work fewer hours, or are working but will probably stop once they have kids, take a moment to think about the other side of the story.

Most of my colleagues have working spouses, and most of those spouses (male or female) make more than my wife. This leads to all sorts of conversations over lunch that go like:

1) Q: "Why don't you just [insert something here that is logistically complicated for a 1-car family in a place with lousy public transportation]?"

A: "Because we can only afford one car."

2) Q: "Why don't you just do [insert something expensive here]?"

A: "Because we can't afford it."

(Often conversations 1 and 2 are with a certain female colleague, FWIW. Yes, she has kids, but she also has a husband who makes more money than my wife.)

Anyway, my wife has had a complicated life, she doesn't make a lot of money, her hours aren't always as flexible as the hours of an academic, and if we're going to have a kid we'll have to adopt, which isn't cheap. (I'm well aware that doing it the normal way isn't easy either, but at least the insurance will cover an obstetrician. It won't cover adoption expenses, however.) If we are able to adopt, my wife will probably stay at home because her income is too low to justify paying for daycare. Before you assume we'll be having it easy, keep in mind that we'll have very little in savings because she isn't able to put away much now, and what we are saving will go to adoption expenses.

I'm well aware that there are ways in which I do indeed have it easy, but there are also ways in which I don't, so be cautious before you start judging how easy things are for people whose stories you don't fully know.

Alex said...

I would argue that, while hard work is necessary for success in any field, one should not have to work 80 hours/week to gain tenure/promotion. This system was put in place when the predominant culture was white male with SAH wives. This is no longer the case and should be updated.

That's half the story. The other half of the story is that the demands have actually risen since the days of the white male with the SAH wife because the academy has produced WAY too many Ph.D.'s. The more Ph.D.'s there are on the market, the more competitive it is, and the more an employer can demand. The academy demands more from us because we are easy to replace. And we are easy to replace because we produce too many replacements.

You can talk till you're blue in the face about the right and enlightened thing to do, but the supply and demand forces all point to higher demands on faculty.

Ms.PhD said...

In my department, the vast majority (~75%) have a stay at home wife or no spouse.

50% of the remaining minority (so, about 12.5% of the total) are married academic couples.

In case you're interested, my department is 18% women. All of the women are married, and all of their spouses either a) work on the same campus (half); b) are deceased or c) work in some other profession outside the home.

Ace said...

Alex makes good points. You win some you lose some.
Althought this points out one way in which women are in a worse position - we can have stay at home/part time partners too - but we make less money than men with stay at home partners...:-\
I myself brought up that this career is extremely demanding, but I am not sure this is to do with academia. I have been noticing a lot of people in a lot of different professions (from lawyer, to banker to musician to pig farmer) feeling like they work all the time and yet are still behind and haven't been to the dentist in 3 years etc ... I think it's something to do with culture of work in general and we happen to be in one very competitive field.

GMP said...

I cannot agreee more with Alex. I have a number of make colleagues with small kids whose wives work part tiem or not at all, and they are severely strapped for money. Yes they have added freedom but the cash issue, especially for junior faculty who don't make much and have young kids, being with a single income is brutal. I am an FSP and my husband works (nonacademic), and while I sometimes wish for a bit more time to work, I know I would miss the second income. Extra money provides important freedoms beyond the one work around the clock whenever you want.

Anonymous said...

as a recent vintage newbie (male) Asst Prof at a NE medical school (with 3 kids and a wife who is a full time attorney) I am working at home today because our nanny quit the other day and we're trying out a new person. It would be nice to have a stay-at-home spouse... my wife and I joke that we actually both need a "wife!".

And for a fact, I know two young female asst professors at top universities whose husbands work in subordinate positions (and who never would have made faculty on their own).

GMP said...

Instead of a long comment, here's a link to a post inspired by this very nice discussion


Unknown said...

FemaleSciPostDoc wrote:
"I think the broader issue is why the academy makes it so difficult to have a decent work-life balance."

What makes you think that is unique to academia? Welcome to (insert professional career here)! For that matter, welcome to (insert blue collar job here)! The stigma of "the mommy track" (applied to men as well as women) reflects that across a broad spectrum of employment, any attempt/need to reduce professional obligation or work-volume in order to raise a family is seen limiting to ones career.

Cloud said...

I'm not in academia, so I obviously won't take your poll (although I am struck by the fact that I can't actually come up with the data for even a reasonable subset of my current company- a small biotech- I just don't know what my colleagues' spouses do).

Anyway, I thought the folks on this thread might find this report from the AAUP on the division of household labor in academic households interesting.

I had a long post about it awhile back. The numbers are pretty appalling- male partnered scientists do way less housework than female partnered scientists do. But I was struck by this quote:

"Partnered science faculty in our sample average nearly sixty hours a week at work. Men and women scientists log the same number of hours (mean hours for men is 56.4, mean for women 56.3, and standard deviations—about 11—are the same as well)."

So, the guys with stay at home wives aren't necessarily working longer hours than the rest of you. The data actually imply that on average, they aren't. Maybe they just spend more time at the pub drinking beer. Who knows. It isn't fair to their wives, for sure, but is there a deeper unfairness there? I don't know.

(If you are so inclined, you can read my entire reaction to this article here.)

And can we please not refer to the need for household assistance by saying we need a wife? I know it is meant as a funny turn of phrase, but stop and think about it. My husband already has a wife. What we need (and have) is a house cleaner. A wife is more than an assistant to her husband.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure why everyone assumes that having a stay-at-home partner means that people work longer hours. I have a young child and a stay-at-home spouse and, because I do not want to get a divorce, I am almost always home by 6pm on weekdays and only work on the weekends when absolutely necessary. Sometimes I would like to work longer hours but my spouse is not very tolerant of providing 24-hour childcare.
ps - I am female

Unknown said...

My numbers are excessively high (~50%) becuase my department is so small one prof can seriously skew the results.

I _do_ resent my colleagues that go home and have dinner waiting for them. I'm not sure if that's fair, but I irrationally feel that way, perhaps because my lifestyle is so difficult and I feel like I can do none of my jobs well.

I don't resent my coleagues who get to live with their spouse full time because we chose this lifestyle and before we did, _I_ had a stay at home spouse.

Let me tell you... if my hubby weren't bored at home and felt like he was wasting his high-falutin' training, I would more than welcome his stay-at-home status. I guess that's a bit hypocritical, but hey, I'm just being honest.

More at my blog: http://thetwobodyproblem.blogspot.com/2009/08/introduction-part-1.html

Daimo said...

With the exception of cutting a grant deadline a bit fine, the 80 hr/week criteria is a little overdramatic.

Thankfully, in academia it's the productivity that counts, not how often you're seen burning the midnight oil by your superiors, and although the former can benefit from the latter at times, working longer doesn't always translate to being more productive.

80 hr/week. Shit, I know MD PH.Ds who run productive labs and perform their regular hospital functions on a given week who don't pull that kind of hourage.

Anonymous said...

I _do_ resent my colleagues that go home and have dinner waiting for them.

_Resent_? really? How about they resenting you since they have to make do on only one income while you enjoy the benefits of a double income couple? Gosh, talk about the me generation.

Reality is, both sides made their own choice, and resenting each other seems a very immature reaction to the situation.

p.s. I'm 1/2 of a working couple, but no, I don't resent my spouse-at-home colleagues.

John Vidale said...

Too serious here today. I do science because it is fun.

No one would believe the gyrations in my day today - two trips to the kid's school so my wife could chaperone a field trip after she arranged a substitute lecturer for her class, then a State hazard meeting an hour away via a U-car, now I'm meeting a colleague in a train station two hours from home for a volcano observatory party tonight. That's probably clear as mud.

Anyway, we chose science because it is fun and challenging, and we were right.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to point out the situation in which many stay at home spouses aren't by choice. In my case, as a female science professor, I had 3 job offers but none in a location with many suitable job options for my spouse... we went with the best one and he has been underemployed or not employed since I started. I don't see this situation as an advantage (although I often get awesome cooked meals when I come home in the evening) because we both want to pursue our professional ambitions...

Anonymous said...

@Alex: we are adopting; do you know there's a 13K tax credit for adoption? also check with HR, several places let you use your flex account or have specific adoption benefits, and your health insurance should pick up the birthmother's medical expenses. It is expensive but not as much as I thought it would be (less than 1 year of childcare), and there are several loan programs for families. Just saying.

hummale said...

I'm just stunned by the results of the poll.

Not only does nobody in my (humanities) department have a stay-home spouse, I can't even think of anyone in my field who has one (that is, whom I know to have one), except for men over the age of 65.

Is the culture of the humanities so different from the culture in the sciences?

Anonymous said...

There's benefits to both situations. When we moved for my grad program, it took my husband 3 months to find a job in his field (which is pretty specialized), and it was wonderful coming home to freshly baked pastries, food ready at 6pm, & a clean house. What wasn't great: living on my fellowship & my husband feeling like a failure because he could only find jobs where he would be significantly underemployed. My BIL is an academic as well, with 2 small kids and a SAH wife, and there is no way they will ever be able to afford a home in their city on one income. So, it seems to me there are trade-offs with every decision.

PUI prof said...

Anonymous 5:32

You are right, "resent" is a strong word. I do pine for that kind of life. I know, grass is greener...

A classmate of mine, who has always had a "wife as household staff" and has not had to lift a finger once he comes home from work, has had huge success as a scientist. I'll always wonder how much better I'd be doing in science if I could devote the extra time to work.

While I had that for about 6 months before Hub had found a job, there was no dinner waiting for me because he was watching our tiny baby and well, they don't leave time for much else.

What extra income?!? The income that comes from my husband's job goes away quickly to the following expenses needed for him to have that job: His apartment in a major urban area, gas for his 300-mile a week commutes, and daycare for our child, among other expenses of having a commuter marriage. Clearly, we did not choose this lifestyle for the money. Besides, my position pays pretty poorly, at least monetarily.

Everyone is right, we all make our choices. And we made ours. Like I said, I was just being honest. Sounds like we touched a nerve - all around!

Anonymous said...

in my experience, my colleagues who have stay at home spouses (men with stay at home wives) work LESS than single men and single women and married women. I think this is because the stay-at-home wife goes stir crazy and thus demands that the husband be home by a certain time and not work weekends. Whereas single men and single women obviously don't have that obligation. And, working spouses either understand the demands of jobs or else are wrapped up in their own working lives too and don't depend as much on the husband as stay-at-home wives do. just my observation.

Geomom said...

I was the stay-at-home partner for 9 years for my faculty husband. Let's just say he didn't come home to many "home-cooked" meals. Mostly he came home to a harried wife, who handed him a screaming toddler and hid in the bedroom while he tried to put together a quick dinner.

Anonymous said...

In my department of about 20 people, only one other faculty member has small kids, and he has a SAH wife. Everyone else either has no kids, or grown kids (and started their academic career after the kids were grown).

Anonymous said...

I encountered this issue recently. I work at a science institute in Europe and recently I saw a sign advertising a women's group for women at the institute. I've noticed there aren't many women working there - for example I'm the only woman in my research group and I've been feeling isolated since I moved here.

So I wondered who would go. I went along and was surprised because it was predominantly wives of scientists. There was one PhD student and me in the actual scientist category. It was lovely to talk to women at work for a bit, but it did make me feel a bit weird.