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Press release

Women experience marital name penalty

Those who don't take husband's name are seen as less loving

Women who keep their surnames when getting married are perceived as less loving partners. That's according to a study by Kristin Kelley, researcher at WZB Berlin Social Science Center. In a survey among U.S. respondents, she investigated whether the choice of marital name influences how heterosexual women and men are judged as romantic partners.

The sociologist found that women who kept their last name after marriage were viewed by respondents as less committed, less loving and less conforming to respondent’s image of the ideal wife. The negative evaluation also applied to women who opted for a double name after marriage.

Men also experience a marital name penalty when breaking with gender norms, but less harshly than their female partners. Men whose wives kept their last names are considered less committed and loving partners. Men who had hyphenated last names were seen as further from the ideal husband, but not as less committed or loving compared to men whose wives changed their names.

For her study, the sociologist asked 500 representatively selected people in the U.S. to rate the name choices of three fictional married couples. In couple one, the wife had adopted the husband’s name; in couple two, the spouses had kept their names; partners in couple three had both hyphenated their names.

The research shows that women and men are perceived as more loving partners when their martial name choice is in line with gender norms. "For all the advances in equality, couples who break gender norms still encounter judgement," says researcher Kristin Kelley.

In the U.S. in 2018, about 87 percent of wives took their husband's name. Only three percent of men opted for their wife's name or chose a double name.