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Are maiden names really worth $500,000?

According to a Dutch study, women who kept their names had higher average education levels and fewer children -- and worked more and had higher salaries.

By MSN Money Partner May 11, 2011 2:32PM

This post comes from Jack Hough at partner site SmartMoney. on MSN MoneyForget about cash-stuffed wedding envelopes. A Dutch study suggests a way for brides to pick up an extra half million dollars by doing nothing -- specifically, by not changing their names.


Women who kept their maiden names were judged to be more professional than married-name doppelgangers and proved more likely to win a job, according to the research. They also attracted higher pay.


If the study results have real-world implications -- and more on some limitations of the research in a moment -- then as this season's brides ponder a name-change, they might consider not only their shifting sentiments but economic realities.


Professors at the University of Tilburg in the south of Holland began their research by studying existing data for more than 2,400 married women. Three-quarters had taken their husband's name, 7% had hyphenated last names and the rest kept their maiden names. That seems comparable with the U.S., where a 2004 study found that the percentage of college graduate women who kept their surnames at marriage jumped from 2% to 4% around 1975 to just less than 20% in 2001.

According to the Dutch data, women who kept their names had higher average education levels and fewer children, and that they worked more and had higher salaries.


Next, the researchers asked 90 students (36 female, 54 male) to imagine meeting a married couple at a colleague's party. Some met Peter Bosboom and Helga Kuipers. Others met Peter and Helga Kuipers. Participants were later asked to judge imaginary Helga using five descriptions: caring, competent, dependent, intelligent and emotional. Helga Name-change was judged to be caring, dependant and emotional. Helga Kept-her-name was more intelligent and a bit more competent.


The researchers then confirmed these findings by asking 113 students about a scenario involving the fictitious Agneta. The name-keeping Agneta Vonk was judged less dependent, more intelligent and more ambitious than the name-changing Agneta Ellemers and the hyphenating Agneta Elemers-Vonk. Post continues below video.

Finally, the job interview. Fifty students were asked to review emails containing job applications. Attached memos indicated that the applicant was either Roos Ellemers, whose own name was Fischer before she married Dirk Ellemers, or Roos Ellemers, married to Dirk Fischer. As before, name-keeping Roos was judged less dependent, more ambitious and more intelligent. She was also more likely to be hired--a 4.3 on a scale of 1(low likelihood) to 7(high), versus 3.5 for name-changing Roos. And she nabbed a higher monthly salary--3,020 euros, versus 2,159 euros.


That's 361,708 euros over a lifetime of working, the professors reckon. At today's exchange rate, that's more than $524,000.


Before fiancees begin arguing the matter, they might want to look at some significant limitations of the study. First, the respondents stereotyping poor Helga, Agneta and Roos were students -- and students, as anyone with knowledge of stereotypes must admit, know nothing. At the very least, they have limited experience with questions of who to hire and how much to pay. (Being Dutch, these students might have ridden their bicycles to school that day, leaving them too tired to think clearly.)


Also, the study didn't control for pre-existing judgments associated with the names. Anyone who has partied with a few Kuipers and Bosbooms knows what I'm talking about.


Nonetheless, with U.S. jobs scarce and income growth weak, it's probably best not to take chances. That's why I'm changing my name to Agneta Vonk.


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May 14, 2011 9:43AM
I don't like the flippant tone the author took at the end...Dutch kids all ride bikes, so they're too tired to think? Really? And as far as I know, Kuiper or Bosboom is as normal to them as Smith or Brown would be to us.

But that's not the main point. The point is that this indicates a stereotype embedded in northern European culture, and possibly America as well, though I doubt it carries much weight. Personally, I don't care whether a woman takes her husband's name (though I HATE hyphens, because they're always left out somewhere and you can't tell which name it's supposed to be. Are you Crouch, Sotto, or Crouch-Sotto? Make up your mind!) And usually, it isn't an issue when you send in your resume, unless you indicate that your college diploma was under a different name. Besides, any assumptions someone makes about you based on your name go right out the window if they see you in person. If you took your husband's name but are confident and well-spoken, potential employers can figure that out within seconds of meeting you. Similarly, you can keep your maiden name but still come off dependent and demure just by hunching over and fidgeting nervously during an interview.
May 12, 2011 3:31PM
September the 11th is correct.  This article is the tail wagging the dog.  Older, better educated, more independent women, do better in the business world, make more money and tend to keep their maiden name.  It's not the other way around... keeping your maiden name won't get you farther in business... but being more successful means you'll probably keep your maiden name.
May 12, 2011 3:30PM
Interesting.  But as 9/11 points out below, a correlation does not equal a cause.
May 12, 2011 2:31PM
This makes perfect sense to me. A married woman, to a lot of people, is thought of as part of a pair and therefore more traditional. Tradition used to dictate that women would sacrifice for their husband's careers, move or leave the workforce to care for children, etc... Those are old quaint concepts, but it takes time for people to change their modes of thinking and some never do.

Keeping your maiden name implies to the old school hiring managers and HR people that you and your partner are on equal footing and that makes you seem more serious and more secure as an employee. Hubby can equally sacrifice and move for your job and take off to care for the kids.   
May 12, 2011 12:09PM
This is absolutely the horse pulling the cart.  It is pretty well established that women with more education and who plan to have fewer children (and succeed) tend not take their husband's surname at a considerably higher rate than those who marry young and discontinue education earlier.  It has also been studied and shown that less education means lower lifetime income and marrying earlier means more offspring.  As for the students' perception of women and their surname choices, it comes to exposure: if the women they know who kept their surname tend to be more independent (thus the insistence on keeping the maiden name), then is serves that they would judge strangers similarly.  Let's try finding only women who were in the same freshman class at the same college and follow them through life, studying their professional and personal choices, and I am willing to be we will see the disparity narrow considerably.
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