They call themselves the Hausmänner, meaning "house husbands" in English, and they are the new face of what in HR lingo is known as the "trailing spouse." The group of roughly 90 men, who hail from all over the world, have come to live in Basel, Switzerland because their wives' careers have taken them there.
The number of Americans who know families who have relocated for the wife's career is at 47 percent, according to a recent study. For Millennials, the figure is 56 percent, suggesting that younger workers are more willing to relocate for the wife's career than previous generations. Of this cohort, 72 percent said they'd support moving for the right job, compared with 59 percent of baby boomers, according to a survey by Mayflower relocation.
In other words, the days when it was only wives who followed their husbands around the country, or the globe, as mens' careers dictated are over.
But if society has changed, most organizations remain stuck in the past, said Hausmänner leader Neil Kelly, when I spoke with a few of the men from this organization at one of their informal meetings. "Everything from relocation companies to the American women's club are set up to support a stay-at-home wife even though it's no longer the pre-feminist 1960s," he said.
That's one reason Kelly founded the group. "Your working partner, her colleagues, your family, in-laws and others will view the trailing husband as a spectacle of gender-inappropriate behavior," he said. This makes it emotionally difficult for men and families to adjust to the new arrangement.
And just who are these trailing Hausmänner? Some, like Kelly, had good-paying careers that they left behind to give their wives a chance to shine, while at the same time allowing him them time to develop other talents, like art, music, sport or cooking.
Others keep their jobs that they had "back home" and telecommute. Some, like Dieter (who preferred not to give his last name), stayed behind to be with the kids until the end of the school year, but will follow this summer, and will find a new job just as soon as the kids are settled in school. Others, like Roel Hendriks, a nurse, left a job at home, but doesn't intend to return to work right away. Hendriks is licensed to work in Switzerland and speaks German, so finding a job wouldn't be difficult, but for now he prefers to focusing on the family at the moment.
For some, meanwhile, the roles switch -- some people who are trailing their spouses these days were previously the ones whose careers led the household to move. Marie (who also did not want her last name used) quit her job when her first child was born and followed her husband's career. But after a few years as a stay-at-home mom, she was ready to jump back into the fray. When she couldn't find a job where they live in her area of compensation and benefits, the couple decided that, because she was more motivated to climb the corporate ladder, her job would take priority.
So when Marie found a job in a different country, they packed up and went. Was the decision difficult? "He supported it," Marie said. "He could see I was not happy. He wants me to be the second pillar in the family and also in providing for the family so he doesn't have to carry the whole responsibility. That is the best thing for your family, and then we'll see what happens to my career.
For his part, her husband said, "I don't need a career. I'm happy doing what I"m doing, but I don't need to be a manager."
Because their wives' careers take priority, most of the Hausmänner take care of all the traditional "wife" roles at home, even those that work full-time. That includes cleaning the house, ferrying kids to and from school, and shopping for groceries and making dinner.
But "We aren't judged by how clean our houses are, like the women are," Kelly noted. The other Hausmänner laughingly agree. That seems to be something that doesn't cross gender lines.
If you're relocating for a spouse's career, the challenges can be difficult. Especially when you're moving somewhere you have no friends and family. Having a network of similarly situated people to help you make that adjustment can mean a great deal, which is what makes the Hausmänner such a popular group. They pull the new trailing husbands in, and then take them out for the equivalent of a boys' day out.
"The wives sit and drink coffee," Hendriks explained. "We go out and climb rocks and ride bikes."
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