The Marriage Name Problem
Hyphenated married names could be a problem for the second generation. One couple felt that the McKenna-Thomas Smith-Camera household sounded too much like a law firm. When they got married, they selected Camera as their surname.
It is easier for many other couples….but much more inequitable.
Keeping a Maiden Name
In 2015, among higher income urban women, the rate of keeping a maiden name accelerated to 20 percent while 10 percent hyphenated. For many, practical rather than political reasons seemed to be why. Others suggested that having lived together, couples were used to different names.
Looking back, we would have seen that the numbers fluctuated. They moved from 17 percent in the 1970s, to 14 percent in the next decade and then up to 18 percent in the 1990s. More recently, in 29.5 percent of all NY Times wedding page announcements, the women kept their maiden name. As for religion, Jewish women were less likely to switch than Catholics.
Similar to the NY Times statistics (below), the BBC says a 30 percent share of women kept their last name. In Great Britain, though, the number was as low as 10 percent:
With women tending to keep their names, Spain and Iceland are European exceptions whereas Greece has a law that says they have to keep their birth name (with interesting results). In Norway, women sort of compromise by keeping their maiden name as a secondary surname when they insert it before their new last name.
Our Bottom Line: Social Norms
As economists, wondering why, we can look at the social norms that create default decisions. Automatically switching a maiden name springs from a patriarchal tradition that dates back to when men owned women. Then, it continued as a 20th century norm because the family was controlled by the male breadwinner.
Now, perpetuating the norm, we retain vestiges of the inequity that it embodies. Equal rights activist Lucy Stone knew that when she refused to take her husband’s name in 1855.
My sources and more: I began today’s journey with hyphenated names and ended more simply with marital name changes. Cited by the BBC, it turns out there is some interesting research. I also discovered this 15 year-old U. of Chicago Law Review article, this 2012 hyphenated name discussion from NPR, and this NY Times article. Finally, if you go to just one link, do look at this Guardian description of the Greek law.
Originally posted on the econlife blog, May 25, 2022