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October 21, 2021

Does ditching your maiden name hinder a woman's career?

What’s in a name? A better question: what’s in a taken name?

As an unmarried man, the whole have-a-woman-take-your-name thing both confounds and intimidates me. This is 2011; it’s no longer a given that a bride adopts her husband’s last name. How it’s decided, or whether – gulp – hyphens are involved is a world I yet know nothing about.

But here’s an interesting take on the economic consequences of a woman ditching her maiden name.

According to a few reports, employers – the whole corporate and societal structure, really – perceive women that adopt their husband’s last name as less ambitious, more focused on family than career and, thus, inclined to work fewer hours on the job.

Certainly, this will be one of the more polarizing topics we’ve explored recently in this space, but Marina Adshade, that unconventional Canadian economist from the Big Think’s Dollars and Sex blog, has an interesting take on the professional implications of female name-taking.

*Bing: Why do women earn less than men?

In the U.S., for instance, educated women are more likely – 2.8 times more likely with a master’s degree, five times more likely with a professional degree and 9.8 times with a doctorate – to keep their own names than women with less than a bachelor’s degree. Women who keep their name are also likely have fewer children – a woman that takes her husband’s name in the Netherlands, for example, has 2.2 children while a woman that keeps her own name has just 1.9 kids, on average.

Further, women that take their husband’s last name also tend to work less than their maiden-named counterparts – 22.4 hours per week for name-takers, 28.3 hours on the job per week for name-keepers. Though data may not be reliable for compensation, it’s thought women that take their husband’s last name also earn less than brides that keep their own moniker.

Of course, you see where all this is headed. The overarching picture here, fair or not, is that employers may view women that adopt their husband’s name as less professionally motivated than those that keep their own. And perhaps, it isn’t just HR managers that feel the same way:

“Researchers have conducted a multi-part experiment in which participants were asked to give their perceptions of a woman described in a particular scenario,”  Adshade writes. “In one part of the study, participants were randomly given one of two scenarios in which they meet a woman at a party. In one scenario the woman has her husband’s name and in the other she does not.

“They were then asked to give their perceptions of the hypothetical woman. Despite the fact that other than their name choice the women were identical, the participants overwhelmingly described the woman who had taken her husband’s name as being more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional and (somewhat) less competent.”

That’s a strong conclusion, and an unfortunate one, at that. In rebuttal to this theory is that no one’s ever heard of Michelle Robinson, Margaret Roberts or Victoria Adams -- three successful women that adopted their husband's last names. On the other hand, for women like Amanda Lang, Olivia Chow and Meg Whitman, a resistance to change names after marriage hasn't appeared to be any type of burden.

Do you think women that adopt their husband’s name hinder their professional ambitions in doing so?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...