Despite the advent of female emancipation, women’s rights, laws against sexual discrimination and the growth of political correctness – men still usually earn more than women, rise more quickly and higher up the corporate ladder, are thought to be more career minded and have a much greater likelihood of being sent abroad as an expatriate employee. Women, on the other hand, may be thought more family- than career-oriented and more willing to let their husband’s career take precedence over theirs.
However, there are growing numbers of women who earn more and are more employable than their partners, who are more career focused, who have a more secure career, or who enjoy their job more than their partner does.
There are also men who want to stay at home with the kids while their wife goes out to work, who take a career break while the children are of pre-school age, or who accept that their partner’s career will take precedence over their own.
Increasingly, these couples too decide to move abroad, or are offered the chance to do so. The advantages of such a move can be varied and include improved lifestyle, career benefits, or an escape from unemployment, redundancy, and other unpleasant situations – much the same reasons as men take an international job and their partner follows them.
Slowly but surely the number of female expatriate employees is increasing, and some surveys have indicated that almost 18 per cent of expatriate employees are now women. Consequently, as more women do become expatriate employees, as opposed to expatriate spouses, more men are becoming accompanying spouses – though a larger percentage of female expatriate employees, compared to male expatriate employees, is not married.
Huw Francis – a new expat spouse!
Having worked as an engineer in the UK, I travelled to Hong Kong in 1992 and quickly found a job with an import/export company. A couple of job changes later and whilst studying for a postgraduate qualification in International Business I joined a management consultancy where I worked as a business manager and an associate consultant. I also met and married my Scottish wife Seonaid in Hong Kong and after three years our first son, Ieuan, was born there too.
With increasing economic uncertainty as the Handover to China approached, we decided to leave, and both of us began looking for new jobs – Seonaid was then teaching at the Chinese International School. We worked on the principle that whoever got a good job offer first would accept it, and the other would stay at home, look after our son and write a book!
My wife was offered a job at a school in Ankara, Turkey, and a few months later we arrived in our new home. Having arrived in Hong Kong separately, this was our first move as a couple and it took us a while to settle into our new roles of ‘breadwinner’ and ‘househusband/trailing male’.