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

Abstract

Although junior faculty search committees serve as gatekeepers to the professoriate and play vital roles in shaping the demographic composition of academic departments and disciplines, how committees select new hires has received minimal scholarly attention. In this paper, 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.

Type

Article

Author(s)

Lauren Rivera

Date Published

2017

Citations

Rivera, Lauren. 2017. When Two Bodies Are (Not) a Problem: Gender and Relationship Status Discrimination in Academic Hiring. American Sociological Review. 82: 1111-1138.

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