Are women paying the price for taking their husband’s name?

Taking her husband’s name at marriage suggests to potential employers that a woman is less intelligent, less ambitious, inclined to work fewer hours and more focused on family. Recent evidence suggests that women who make that choice can expect lower wages and fewer job offers as a result.


Whether or not a woman should take her husband’s name has been up for debate over the past few months as new evidence suggests that the share of brides who are keeping their own name in the US is in decline. Analysts have argued that women are changing their names because failing to do so sends the unpleasant signal that they lack commitment in their marriages. That may be true, but when it comes to job-seeking, that might be exactly the signal women want employers to receive.

Women who choose not to adopt their husband’s name are far more likely to be educated than women who do. For example, a US woman with a master’s degree is 2.8 times more likely to choose a non-traditional name after marriage than a woman who is educated at a lower level. A woman with a professional degree is 5 times more likely and a woman with a doctorate is 9.8 times more likely not to change her name than a woman with less than a bachelor degree.*

Women who keep their name also have fewer children. In the Netherlands, for example, a woman who takes her husband’s name has 2.2 children on average while a woman who keeps her own has only 1.9. Perhaps because they have more children, or perhaps because they have more tradition values regarding family, name-takers work fewer hours per week (22.4) compared to name keepers (28.3). Even after controlling for education levels and work hours, a woman who took her husband’s name earns less -- €960 compared to €1156. **

Researchers have conducted a multi-part experiment in which participants were asked to give their perceptions of a woman described in a particular scenario. 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.

Not necessarily qualities you would seek in a potential employee.

In a second experiment, a different set of participants were given one of two emails from a woman who is hypothetically applying for a job and the participants were asked to assess the woman’s prospects for securing the position and to state their expectation of her salary. Again the participants assessed the applicant who took her husband’s name as less intelligent, less ambitious and more dependent. They expected her to be far less likely to receive a job offer and assessed her salary as being €861 per month less than the woman who kept her name.

Can a woman’s name really matter when she applies for a job? While the wage amount is probably suspect, the evidence on job offers is compelling. In several ways this study is comparable to one conducted a few years ago that found that job applicants with African-American-sounding names were 50% less likely to receive invitations for job interviews than those with white-sounding names. Both studies suggest that employers will use names to stereotype applicants. If the stereotype of a woman who takes her husband’s name is that she is more committed to family and less to the workplace then we shouldn’t be surprised that she is disadvantaged in seeking employment compared to women who are seen to be independent and ambitious.

This should give women a whole new reason to hide their Facebook profile from potential employers – to conceal evidence that she has taken her husband’s name.

* Gooding, Gretchen E. and Rose M. Kreider (2010). “Women’s Marital Naming Choices in a Nationally Representative Sample.” Journal of Family Issues 31(5): p.p. 681-701.

** Noordewier, Marret K.; Femke van Horen; Kirsten I. Ruys and Diederik A. Stapel (2010). “What's in a Name? 361.708 Euros: The Effects of Marital Name Change.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 32(1): p.p. 17-25.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.