The term trailing spouse is used to describe a person who follows their life partner to another city because of a work assignment. The term is often associated with people involved in an expatriate assignment[1] but is also used by academia on domestic assignments. Other terms may include expat partner, military dependent, and accompanying spouse.[2]

The earliest citation of the term trailing spouse is attributed to Mary Bralove in a Wall Street Journal article in 1981 titled "Problems of Two-Career Families Start Forcing Businesses to Adapt."[3]

Another personnel man remembers the promising executive he lost because her husband was a dentist who couldn't find a good practice to join in the area. To cope with this problem, some 150 northern New Jersey employers participate in an employer job bank. The bank is designed to provide job leads for "the trailing spouse" of a newly hired or transferred executive.

Trailing spouses are a common phenomenon among military and foreign service households,[4] as well as in private sector companies with employees in different cities, states, and countries. As the conditions of employment require a geographic relocation, the employee's spouse is faced with a major transition that includes personal and professional challenges.

Trailing spouse in economics and sociology


In economics, trailing spouses have been traditionally called tied movers. The term tied mover was coined by Mincer (1978) [5] and it refers to a family migrant who, if single, would not have chosen to migrate. On the other hand, tied stayer is a family non-migrant who, if single, would have chosen to migrate. The issue of family migration decision-making in economics was first approached by Sandell (1977),[6] Mincer (1978) [7] and Polachek and Horvath (1977).[8] These authors recognized that even if the family ’gains’ from migration, on an individual level some family members might ’lose’ from moving. Using a unitary conceptualization of the household, these models predicted that the spouse with a more discontinuous labour force participation and less market earning power (e.g. motherhood, non-market activities) has smaller gains from migration and hence is more likely to be a tied mover.

In sociology, Lichter (1983) [9] emphasized the importance of martial power while Shihadeh (1991) [10] and Bielby and Bielby (1992) [11] argued that gender roles also weighted in the family decision to migrate. According to these last authors, women were more likely to be tied movers or trailing spouses not because of their lower human capital but because of their prescribed role within societies. Some empirical studies in economics have later allowed for gender asymmetric migration by assigning a lower weight to the returns of the wife in the Mincer model (Foged, 2016 [12]., Krieger, 2019.[13])


  • Professional sacrifice – It is not uncommon for a trailing spouse to sacrifice their professional / career goals during their trailing period.[14]
  • Family issues – Stresses caused by social, financial and cultural strains placed on the family relationships as a result of the assignment.
  • Barriers to mobility – The willingness or otherwise of the trailing spouse or other family members to relocate; lack of support by the sponsoring employer to address the needs of the trailing spouse.
  • Work/life challenges – Difficulties associated with finding and maintaining meaningful work or other sense of worth while on assignments, prompting a need to consider career transitions, develop professional resilience and embrace opportunities for reinvention.[15]
  • Loss of identity – Difficulties associated with loss of identity and the subsequent period of reshaping and remodelling that ensues in the new environment.[16]
  • Gender – Experiences and issues facing male trailing spouses vary from those faced by females.[17]

Notable examples



  1. ^ Keenan, Brigid (2006). Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse. Hachette. ISBN 9780719567261.
  2. ^ Gupte, Nicole Neroulias (2019-10-19). "What's a Trailing Spouse?". Retrieved 2020-05-05.
  3. ^ Bralove, Mary (July 15, 1981). "Problems of Two-Career Families Start Forcing Businesses to Adapt". The Wall Street Journal.
  4. ^ "A "Trailing" Spouse? | The Foreign Service Journal - March 2014". Retrieved 2020-05-05.
  5. ^ Mincer, J. (1978). "Family migration decisions". Journal of Political Economy. 86 (5): 749–773. doi:10.1086/260710. JSTOR 1828408. S2CID 153628194.
  6. ^ Sandell, H. S. (November 1977). "Women and the Economics of Family Migration" (PDF). The Review of Economics and Statistics. 59 (4): 406–414. doi:10.2307/1928705. JSTOR 1928705.
  7. ^ Mincer, J. (1978). "Family migration decisions". Journal of Political Economy. 86 (5): 749–773. doi:10.1086/260710. JSTOR 1828408. S2CID 153628194.
  8. ^ Polachek and Horvath, S.W. and F.W. (1977). "A Life Cycle Approach to Migration: Analysis of the Perspicacious Peregrinator". 35th Anniversary Retrospective. Research in Labor Economics. Vol. 35. pp. 349–395. doi:10.1108/S0147-9121(2012)0000035037. ISBN 978-1-78190-218-9.
  9. ^ Lichter, D. T. (1983). "Socioeconomic returns to migration among married women". Social Forces. 62 (2): 487–503. doi:10.2307/2578318. JSTOR 2578318.
  10. ^ Shihadeh, E.S. (1991). "The prevalence of husband-centered migration: Employment consequences for married mothers". Journal of Marriage and Family. 53 (2): 432–444. doi:10.2307/352910. JSTOR 352910.
  11. ^ Bielby, W. T. and Bielby D. D. (1992). "I will follow him: Family ties, gender-role beliefs, and reluctance to relocate for a better job". American Journal of Sociology. 97 (5): 1241–1267. doi:10.1086/229901. JSTOR 2781415. S2CID 144413391.
  12. ^ Foged, M. (2016). "Family migration and relative earnings potentials". Labour Economics. 42: 87–100. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2016.08.004. hdl:10419/147866. S2CID 152963584.
  13. ^ Krieger, M. (2020). "Tied and Troubled: Revisiting Tied Migration and Subsequent Employment". Journal of Marriage and Family. 82 (3): 934–952. doi:10.1111/jomf.12620. hdl:10419/232504. S2CID 210495052.
  14. ^ Knežević, A (April 2013). "I've lost my identity, what have i gained?" (Print). Expatriates Magazine. Paris. pp. 22–23.
  15. ^ " Our Philosophy". Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  16. ^ "The Trailing Spouse No Longer Need Be Such A Drag".
  17. ^ "Adaptation of Trailing Spouses: Does Gender Matter?". Anne M. Braseby - Florida International University.