Dual-Career Academic Families and the Split Position Option

Carol B. de Wet & Harriet Flower
Geosciences & Classics Departments, Franklin & Marshall College

There has been a major transformation of family social and economic structures within the United States over the past 30 years. Fewer than 1 our of 5 families today are headed by a single male breadwinner. Non-traditional family structures such as female-headed  households and dual-income households are the fastest growing form of family in America (Hochchild, 1991). The majority of American women ages 16-64 are now employed, including a majority of those who have preschool-aged children (Rayman &Brett, 1993). The drive to succeed in work, and simultaneously to have a rewarding family life, is apparent in the lives of the increasing number of dual-career families where both spouses are academics. But the demands of keeping up a career in research and teaching are intense, as are the demands of parenting. Today we see more and more academic career marriages with children. At out professional meetings we see strollers and baby backpacks in greater abundance than ever before. This is a part of the academy that will continue to change as more and more partners are determined to manage both their careers and a family. It is a healthy reflection of national trends and will add depth and insight to all fields as women remain active in their fields.

In the past, women who entered academia expected to make personal sacrifices for the sake of their discipline. Today's career women are no less dedicated to their fields, but they are less wiling to sacrifice a family life in the process of pursuing their intellectual goals. Fifty years ago, most successful male professors expected to have a family in addition to their career, but they were probably more likely to have had a wife who was a dedicated to the home and family full-time. The workplace was structured on the assumption of a social and emotional support structure provided to the male by a full-time wife or housekeeper. Since the 1950's model is essentially untenable today, what new strategies are available to support women in their goal for both career and child-rearing fulfillment?

We suggest that one alternative to the old model is the split position option. This option, increasingly being utilized by both the institutions looking for top quality applicants, and dual-career academics, is to share one salaried position. We welcome discussing the strong and weak points of this arrangement, based on our first-hand experience of it over the past 13 years.


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