For more than 25 years, the dual-career issue has been the most common cause of assignment refusal and a major factor hindering trailing spouses' adjustment. Typical of many is that they are college educated, career-focused, and independent, and unwilling to give up their own careers to support someone else's.
For those that do relocate, many are increasingly "serial movers" relocating multiple times. But with each move they face huge barriers to employment: lack of access to a work permit, labor markets that do not recognize their qualifications, an inability to commit to long-term job tenure, language and cultural differences, local stereotyping, and prejudice.
The dual-career issue for male trailing spouses is even more critical, not because they are necessarily uncomfortable with their role but because people around them find it difficult to understand their status. This can then deeply affect a trailing spouse's inner life, including their self-esteem, identity, confidence and self-worth.
While there can be some serious outcomes from dual-career problems, including a strong urge to return home, high stress levels, over-dependence on anti-depressants, addiction, and even thoughts of suicide, the positive effects of paid employment are equally clear. The Permits Foundation reports that employed trailing spouses perceive that working while they are abroad has a positive impact on their adjustment, family relationships, health and well-being, as well as willingness to complete and to extend their current assignment and to go on a new one.
Today, trailing spouses re-assign more often than they repatriate, and they increasingly desire continuation of their careers and employment opportunities.
The challenge is how to incentivize employees and their partners to expatriate when only one of them is being recruited for their professional skills and the other will likely end up in a "hobby" career or job to pass the time.