Husbands and wives climb the ladder together

January 31, 1997

Marriage and the job.

Equal opportunities

Rebecca Dobash, professor of social research in the department of social policy and social work at the University of Manchester, and her husband Russell Dobash,professor of criminology and social policy in the same department, have managed the tricky business of climbing the academic ladder while continuing to work and live together. It has not, however,been easy. Rebecca says: "It's very difficult for a variety of reasons. One reason is that it is one thing when you are a student and there are many, many places to study, it is something else when you are seeking a post, and you need to find two posts in the samelocation that happen to reflect yourdiffering areas of interest withina discipline."

They arrived in Britain in 1972 just after completing their doctorates at the University of Washington. Married in 1965, they shared a one-year post for two part-time foreign academics at the University of Stirling before getting full-time lecturer jobs in the same department a year later.

Nearly 20 years later Rebecca, by then a reader, applied for a professorship of social policy at UCC. She got it and Russell was offered a senior lectureship at Cardiff. Rebecca says: "They were aware that if they wanted one they had to have two. It was clear that I would not take the post if we had to have a commuting living relationship."

Russell adds: "They were reasonably keen for us to come and then they were able to offer me a senior lectureship. Without that it would have been difficult for us to leave Stirling. I do not think at that stage in our careers we would have been prepared to commute and live apart for so long."

In 1995 two professorships came up at Manchester University. After holding informal discussions with the university they decided to apply for the posts independently on a competitive basis.

The chairs seemed to be well suited to their respective talents. Rebecca specialises in the sociology of the family and Russell in the sociology of crime. They both work on the sociology of violence. In October 1995 they both assumed professorships at Manchester.

Rebecca says: "They were entirely independent selection committees and independent selection processes. Obviously they were aware that they had two people who were a couple when they were going through their deliberations but I do not think that Manchester was at all interested in taking an individual it did not want because the university did not need to do that."

Rebecca says: "Within the university context there are a variety of problems. There may be concern that you form a power bloc within a department and there may be concern about whether you sit on the same committees, whether or not your decision-making is seen tobe independent."

Russell says there are more academic couples working together in the United States and Canada than there are in the UK. In the 1970s and 80s in the US the male, as a rule, got the senior position and the woman the short-term research position. Now he has the impression that the picture is changing. The Dobashes, who are equals, know of one or two instances where the woman has got the top post and the man a minor research post.

All for one and one for all

David and Christina Romer, both aged 38, are professors of economics at the University of California at Berkeley. They have three children. Since completing their postgraduate studies at MIT in 1985, they have offered themselves as a joint package when looking for jobs.

David Romer says: "When we went on the job market we made it clear that we were interested in two positions at the same school. And almost without exception, schools would have us out for interviews together. They knew if they wanted to attract one of us they had to do something to attract the other."

After three years as assistant professors at Princeton they moved to California in 1988. In the autumn they are moving to Harvard to professorships in the Kennedy School of Government. Harvard knew that if it wanted to attract one of them it would also have to find a role for the other.

David Romer says: "Christina is a very distinguished economist. In the past there have been times when some universities have been interested in hiring Christina but not David. Christina has never pursued any of these offers."

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