Two Body Problem

I was at a women in physics conference recently. (USC, Yale, and U Michigan have started hosting women in physics conferences. They are really great. ) Amy Cassidy, a friend of mine and a rare female atomic physics theorist, gave a talk about the state of women in physics. Most of the stats she presented were pretty well known to me and not very shocking.

Quick Summary: There aren’t a bunch of us (about 7-8% of the membership of APS, depending on year), but the situation is getting better.

However there is one stat that I found very shocking. According to the Institute on Women and Gender, 44% of the female APS membership are married to other physicists. Another 25%, are married to other scientists. Thats 69% of women in physics are married to other scientists!! There is even a term for this, disciplinary endogamy. Sounds like some kind bizarre disease.

So here we have something, we in physics, call the two body problem. The two body problem is that it is often very hard for two driven, highly specialized careers to coexist in one couple. Of course this doesn’t happen to just scientific couples. It can just be harder sometimes if both people are academic and need to find two professor-like jobs at the same university, city or town.

Now the reason I bring this up, is that I have always been one of the women steadfastly in the other 30%. I don’t date other scientists. I just seem to get along better with men who are not like me. Who don’t think like me. I like to think that it’s because I like to learn things I didn’t know from my partner. It’s most likely because I get too competitive.

In fact, in my many years of dating, and my many years of working in very male dominated environments, I have only once gone on a date with a fellow scientist. And technically he was an engineer. As Maverick would say, that relationship was a “crash and burn.” But that is all about to change. I am about to break all of my rules and see what all of my colleagues seem to think is the winning ticket. I am going on a date with another physicist. Maybe, I’ll tell you how it goes…


10 responses to “Two Body Problem

  1. I married a physicist, and I would highly recommend it. It’s fun to have somebody who will get excited about the same sorts of things that you will. I mean, girls from the humanities will pay attention and maybe think it’s kind of interesting that the five-year WMAP data just came out, but fundamentally by making the decision to have a non-science career, they’ve just decided that other things are more important. On the other hand, if my wife and I don’t get non-postdoc jobs and wind up on the street, we may wind up running empirical tests of the theory that All You Need Is Love.

  2. Good luck with your date. I just wanted to express my shock at seeing a Top Gun (1986!) quote for the first time in probably over a decade.

  3. Does the IWG study mention male physicists’ dating habits? If you exclude casual dating, all my relationships for the past 5-6 years were with physicists or EEs. Also, do they propose a cause?

  4. I married a computer scientist (I’m a female physicist). I get shared geeking out and complementary skills, plus his job prospects are way more flexible. Bonus!

  5. Good luck with your date Bonna, but I think that you’re lucky to be in the other 30%. The longer term sounds a lot harder for the ones who stick with other physicists:

    Sounds like a nightmare to me…

  6. I’m a male physicist, and have had wonderful relationships with women from both sides of the physics fence. Non-physicists offer a connection to other directions in life. Physicists share and understand the language and wonders of nature. Both are priceless.

    The two body problem is truly unpleasant. Solutions exist, and may not be unique.

  7. I once took a class taught by one member of a couple; which couple were not only both in academia, in the same field, at the same institution, but working on mostly overlapping stuff.

    I shudder at the thought, though they seemed happy. At least they have someone to fill in for their class. :-/

  8. B:
    Where did you get your statistics on APS members who are women?
    I have been looking for more recent ones and a link would be helpful to me. Thanks.

  9. Sorry to have been so remiss in replying to comments. I don’t know the stats for males. I guess you could probably derive them. If 8% of APS memberships are women and 44% are married to male physicists… then approximately 4% of male physicists are married to female physicists (assuming that marriage is hetero… sorry same gendered couples). If we assume that 25% or less are then married to other types of scientist, this limits us to about 30% of men married to other scientists. From my experience that seems about right.

    As for APS stats, you can find a bunch of stuff on the site

    They have studies from 2005 and 2007.

    Thanks for all the comments.

  10. Pingback: Physics and Dating (and Me) « Barefoot in the Snow

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