Why Do Families Move for Men’s, But Not Women’s, Careers?

Men choose jobs that are less flexible in location

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If you're part of a heterosexual couple and you're relocating for work, odds are it's the man's career that's driving the move. Couples are more likely to move to chase a man's ambitions than a woman's, says the Washington Post. But it isn't clear exactly why this happens.

According to a new study, says the Post, the disparity may originate with men and women's choice of careers, rather from a decision to prioritize the man's goals. That conclusion came from the work of University of Minnesota researcher Alan Benson, who calculated that industries dominated by men tend to be more geographically confined than industries dominated by women.

Take, for instance, fields like oil and gas engineering, politics or aerospace engineering—all industies mostly populated by men. For each of these industries there are a few small hubs where most of the action goes down. And even newer jobs that seem like they could be done from anywhere—computer programming, design—tend to draw people to one of the few tech hubs scattered around the world. On the flip side, jobs like teaching, nursing and accounting—where women hold more of the jobs—can be done more or less anywhere.

This disparity in the geographic requirements of male- and female-heavy industry, says Benson in his study, suggests that it might be the demands of the job, rather than an inherent male bias in married couples' power dynamics, that's behind the uneven treatment.

“The tendency for men to move more often than women is completely explained by the types of jobs they enter, not that they are men or women,” said Benson to the Post's Dina ElBoghdady. “Men who enter female-dominated jobs don’t tend to move as much for work. If you look at women who enter male-dominated jobs, they tend to move a lot.”

Some jobs are geographically located because they need to be: miners go where the mines are. In theory at least, remote working and virtual offices could make industries like publishing or programming more dispersed; the economic advantages of clusters, though, mean that even if workers spend most of their days staring at computer screens, there's still some reason for individuals to re-locate to an industry hub. But that culture is also enabled by entrenched expectations—that families will move for work, at the expense of one partner's career. If that's not strictly necessary, there's room to come up with better ways to hire one half of a working couple without derailing the other's career momentum.

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