When Two Bodies Are (Not) a Problem: Gender and Relationship Status Discrimination in Academic Hiring

Lauren A. Rivera*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations

Abstract

Junior faculty search committees serve as gatekeepers to the professoriate and play vital roles in shaping the demographic composition of academic departments and disciplines, but how committees select new hires has received minimal scholarly attention. In this article, I highlight one mechanism of gender inequalities in academic hiring: relationship status discrimination. Through a qualitative case study of junior faculty search committees at a large R1 university, I show that committees actively considered women’s—but not men’s—relationship status when selecting hires. Drawing from gendered scripts of career and family that present men’s careers as taking precedence over women’s, committee members assumed that heterosexual women whose partners held academic or high-status jobs were not “movable,” and excluded such women from offers when there were viable male or single female alternatives. Conversely, committees infrequently discussed male applicants’ relationship status and saw all female partners as movable. Consequently, I show that the “two-body problem” is a gendered phenomenon embedded in cultural stereotypes and organizational practices that can disadvantage women in academic hiring. I conclude by discussing the implications of such relationship status discrimination for sociological research on labor market inequalities and faculty diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1111-1138
Number of pages28
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Volume82
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

Keywords

  • employment
  • gender
  • higher education
  • inequalities
  • qualitative methods
  • work and occupations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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