News Release

Working abroad can mean goodbye to your partner’s career – employers not paying enough attention

Living abroad has a significant impact on the career identities, career capital development and subjective well-being of expatriate partners

Reports and Proceedings

University of Vaasa

Kaisu Kanstrén

image: Kaisu Kanstrén view more 

Credit: Kaisu Kanstrén

Living abroad has a significant impact on the career identities, career capital development and subjective well-being of expatriate partners. Companies and organisations should pay much more attention to the situation of the partners of their international employees, shows a recent doctoral dissertation by Kaisu Kanstrén at the University of Vaasa, Finland.

Kaisu Kanstrén's doctoral dissertation examines the career identities, career capital development and subjective well-being of expatriate partners. For her dissertation, Kanstrén interviewed thirty Finnish career-oriented expatriate partners.

– Although the comfort of partners is very important for the success of international assignments and recruitments in general, companies and organisations still do not pay sufficient attention to the situation of relocating partners, says Kanstrén.

Living abroad affects partners in many different ways

The results of the study show that global mobility has a significant impact on the career identity of expatriate partners. In the worst-case scenario, moving abroad for the sake of a partner’s work can lead to the loss of the career identity of the accompanying partner; at best, it can be the start of a new career and the reconstruction of a career identity.

Living abroad also seems to offer diverse learning experiences that develop skills and increase the career capital of the partners. The partners feel that their self-awareness, self-confidence, coping skills  in a foreign environment, intercultural interaction skills, language skills and understanding of international business develop.

In addition, living abroad brings about significant changes in the resources that affect the subjective well-being of the partners, such as their own career and financial independence, as well as social support networks. Achieving resources, on the other hand, seems to have a stronger impact on well-being than losing them. The partners actively seek to find new resources that produce well-being to replace lost ones, for example, by replacing the loss of paid work with voluntary work or hobbies or studies related to their own profession.

Unlocking the competence potential of partners

Expatriate partners feel excluded from the support offered by companies and organisations, unlike their working partners. The results of the doctoral dissertation also emphasise the importance of the partners’ own career management skills, active participation and self-directedness behind the achievement of a positive experience abroad.

– I encourage companies and organisations that either post their employees abroad or recruit international experts to Finland to develop support programmes for partners and to involve the accompanying partners from the very beginning in planning to move and live abroad.

Kanstrén also thinks that partners should more often be seen as potential experts whose skills could be more widely utilised. This would benefit all parties, and moving abroad would not mean that the partners have to give up their own careers.

The results of Kanstrén's doctoral dissertation are based on three substudies that examined career transitions of expatriate partners and the effects of transitions on the partners’ career identities, the development of career capital and the partners’ subjective well-being in the context of working abroad.

Doctoral dissertation

Kanstrén, Kaisu (2021) Expatriate partners: career identity, career capital and subjective well-being perspectives. Acta Wasaensia 473. Väitöskirja. Doctoral dissertation. Vaasan yliopisto. University of Vaasa.

Publication pdf: 

Public defence

The public examination of M.Sc. Kaisu Kanstrén’s doctoral dissertation "Expatriate partners: career identity, career capital and subjective well-being perspectiveswill be held on Friday 10.12.2021 at 10 AM (EET) at the University of Vaasa. The defence will be organised online:

Professor Julia Richardsson (Curtin University) will act as an opponent and Professor Vesa Suutari (University of Vaasa) as a custos.

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