Universities are increasingly making "dual hires" - appointing both members of an academic couple - according to new US research.
A survey of 9,000 academics at 13 US research universities found that dual hires comprise an increasing proportion of faculty appointments, rising from 3 per cent in the 1970s to 13 per cent in the current decade, although the proportion of academic couples in the sector remained constant at about a third of staff.
The research by a team at Stanford University found that 36 per cent of respondents had a partner who was also an academic. Overall, 93 per cent of academic couples work at the same institution.
Almost 90 per cent of couples surveyed who had negotiated a dual hire said the first to be offered a post would have refused the job if their partner had not found "appropriate employment".
Although such arrangements can raise concerns about nepotism, the research team, led by Londa Schiebinger, director of Stanford's Clayman Institute for Gender Research, said couple hiring could help to build a more diverse and competitive workforce.
The paper, "Dual Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know", urges institutions to develop dual-career hiring protocols to make the "partner issue" easier to raise during interviews.
"Job candidates currently have much to lose by discussing the employment needs of a partner too soon," the paper says. "At the same time, universities have much to lose by not finding out about partners early enough to act."
Universities that are dual-career-couple friendly should signal this when recruiting, the paper suggests. Institutions should also collaborate with neighbouring universities to co-ordinate job opportunities.
Gail Kinman, reader in occupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, interviewed 844 British academics in 2004 for a study on work-life balance and found that 46 per cent had partners in higher or further education.
Commenting on the Stanford report, she said: "Working in the same institution may have advantages and disadvantages for academic couples - a study of 6 academic couples conducted in the US in 2002 found that men whose wives worked at the same university spent an average of six more hours per week working than men whose wives worked elsewhere, but reported greater family success and less work-life conflict."
The University of Liverpool is among the UK institutions with a policy on dual hiring. A spokesman said that each case "is judged entirely on its merits in terms of the level of skill and expertise the individuals concerned can bring to the institution".