New career opportunities can be exciting for young couples. Yet, when career opportunities involve moving to a new location, couples must negotiate if and how the move will take place. In heterosexual relationships, research finds that the stress of relocation more often falls on female partners, and women often decide to relocate for their male partner’s career. In line with these cultural trends, a new study by Jaclyn S. Wong examines how young heterosexual couples negotiate relocation for career opportunities, despite growing acceptance of gender equality in the United States.
Wong conducted 118 interviews with 21 heterosexual couples, between the ages of 22 and 35, who were considering relocation for career opportunities for one or both partners. All couples had similar earning potential and were in their final year of graduate and professional school from universities in the Chicago metropolitan area. Wong observed couples follow three main trajectories when negotiating relocation. In the first trajectory, couples, particularly men, took steps to maintain desirable career outcomes for both individuals. They often formed future plans for relocation and altered their job search in order to help meet each partner’s career goals. Most couples in this pathway successfully found employment in their respective field after relocation.
In the second trajectory, one member of a couple, typically the woman, changed their initial career desires to meet the career opportunities of their partner. They often re-framed their career goals to justify prioritizing their partner’s career over their own. In the final pathway, one of the partners, men in particular, withdrew from the negotiating process and seceded all the bargaining power to their partner. Due to this bargaining power, however, women experienced more stress and emotional labor because they had to determine which career opportunities satisfied both partners in the relationship. In sum, Wong finds that despite recent gains towards gender equality at work and at home, many heterosexual couples continue to reproduce traditional gender roles in negotiating whose career to prioritize.