Take Your Husband's Name And Take A Salary Cut

Taking a husband's name may mean taking a hit in the labor market, according to a recent study. But lower salary isn't the only ill effect women suffer when they switch surnames — or, conversely, when they don't.

According to Catherine Rampell of the Times Economix Blog, researchers at the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research gave Dutch university students descriptions of women that were identical, except for the women's decision to take their husband's names. Women who did so, the economists found, were seen as more "stereotypically feminine" — the students perceived them as "more caring, more dependent, less intelligent, more emotional, less competent, and less ambitious in comparison with a woman who kept her own name." And in another experiment, the students were less likely to hire these women for a hypothetical job, and estimated their salaries as lower (by about $1,172.36).

As Rampell points out, the study has limitations. The students, for instance, were not actual employers. And as commenter Barbara notes, real bosses rarely have access to information about whether a woman has changed her name. Moreover, commenter Jennifer cites an effect of name-change not covered by the study — the loss of an online paper trail of publications and achievements under the previous name. She writes,

I'm interested to know more about the negative consequences of changing one's name and then "vanishing" from sources of past accomplishments that would otherwise be searchable on-line (what employer doesn't google their prospective applicant) or through other publications. In this case, the woman must either (a) continually cite her previous name to maintain the digital trail, or (b) accept that the advantages of having a digital trail may be lost.

Salon's Lynn Harris chose to solve this by keeping her birth name as her byline while using her married name in other situations. But even this compromise won't work for everyone. Interestingly, Rampell chose to illustrate her post with a picture of Hillary Clinton, who had trouble in the presidential primaries in part because she was perceived as stereotypically un-feminine. Imagine how much more criticism she would have gotten for her supposed stridency had she run as Hillary Rodham.

Name-changing is still one of the many areas where society gets women going and coming. If you take your husband's name, you must be dependent and incompetent. If you don't, of course, you're a ball-busting feminist — or that even more pitiable creature, someone without a husband at all. And, in most cases, you still have a name that came down to you patrilineally anyway. Luckily, there is one woman who's thrown off the chains of the nomenclature patriarchy and received only praise for it. I speak, of course, of Lady Gaga.

Women, Work And A Name Change [NYT Economix Blog]

Related: Mrs. Feminist [Salon]