When working couples move, the husband's career often gets a boost and the wife's career suffers. A new study suggests what's behind that typical outcome.

Couples tend to put more emphasis on the man's career, even if the wife works full-time and is college-educated.

"This is bad news for people who are interested in men and women having equal success in the labor force," said Mary Noonan, associate professor of sociology at the University of Iowa. "Even for highly educated married women with prestigious occupations, employment still suffers when they move, while the husbands' careers benefit. These women likely share the role of breadwinner, earning a significant part of the family income, but their career is still seen as secondary within the dynamic of the couple."

The findings are detailed in a recent issue of the journal Social Forces. The study was based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, an annual survey that tracks families over a 30-year period. Noonan and a colleague examined the experiences of 5,072 working men and 4,120 working women between ages 25 and 59, all of whom were married. They compared the employment status and salaries of those who moved from one metropolitan area to another (655 men, 371 women) to those who stayed put.

A year after moving, nearly all of the men remained employed, but the women who moved were 22 percentage points less likely to remain employed compared to women who didn't move. Moving boosted the salaries of men by an average of $3,000 that year, compared to an average increase of only $700 for men who stayed put.

Women who moved reported average salary increases of $750 less than women who stayed put.

"Our results support the notion that families migrate to enhance husbands' careers," Noonan said. "Women are very unlikely to initiate the move. They're more likely to be the 'trailing spouse,' following their husbands in a move for his promotion, raise, or better opportunities down the road."