Less than half of women with PhDs in survey keep ‘maiden’ names

Marital Name Change Survey first results and open data release.

Over the last three days 3,400 ever-married U.S. residents took my Marital Name Change Survey. I distributed the survey link on this blog, Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know who took it, but based on the education and occupation data a very large share of the respondents were women (88%) with professional degrees (30%) or Phds (27%). It’s not a representative sample, but the results may still be interesting.

Here I’ll give a few topline numbers as of 8:00 this morning, and then link to a public version of the data and materials. These results reflect a little data checking and cleaning and of course are subject to change.

Respondents were asked about their most recent marriage. Half were married in the 2010s, but the sample includes more than 400 married in the 1990s and 200 earlier.

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The vast majority (84%) were women married to men; 11% were men married to women and 4% (~140) were in same-gender marriages. Here are some observations about the women married to men. The name-change choices are shown below, with “R change” indicating the respondent changed their name, and “Sp change” indicating their spouse changed. The “Other” field included a write-in, and the vast majority of those were variations on hyphenations or changes to middle names.

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Because of the convenience nature of the sample, I don’t put much stock in the overall trend (I’ll try to develop a weighting scheme for this, but even then). However, I think the PhD sample is worth looking at. Here is the trend of women with PhDs (now or at the time of marriage) married to men.

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By this reckoning, the feminist-name heyday was in the 1980s, followed by a backslide, and now a rebound of women with PhDs keeping their names. The 2010s trend is like that found in the Google Consumer survey reported by Claire Cain Miller and Derek Willis in NYT Upshot.

Note, these no-change rates are higher than those reported by Gretchen Gooding and Rose Kreider from the 2004 American Community Survey, which showed 33% of married women with PhDs had different surnames than their husbands (regardless of when they got married). I show 53% in the 2000s had different names than their husbands, and 57% in the 2010s. Maybe that’s because I have more social science and humanities PhDs, or just a more woke sample.

These results also show a strong age-at-marriage pattern, with PhD women much more likely to keep their names if they married at older ages. Over age 40, 74% of women with PhDs kept their names, compared with 20% who married under age 25. (Note this is based on education at the time of the survey; I also collected education at the time of marriage, which I discuss below.)

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I asked people how important various factors were if people considered changing their names. Among PhD women marrying men who did not change their names, the most important reasons were feminism (52% “very important”), professional considerations (34%), convenience (33%), and maintaining independence within the marriage (24%). Among those who took their husbands’ names, the most important factors were the interests of their children (48%) and showing commitment to the marriage (25%).

A few other observations: PhD women were most likely to keep their names if they had no religion (53%), were Jewish (46%), or other non-Christian religion (43%); protestants (27%), Catholics (29%), and other Christians (21%) were less likely to keep their names. Finally, those who had lived together before marriage were most likely to keep their names (51% for those who lived together for three years or more, compared with 27% for those who did not live together at all).

Data availability

I don’t have time now to analyze this more, but that shouldn’t stop you. Feel free to download the data and documentation here under a CC-BY license (the only requirement is attribution). This includes a Stata data file, and PDFs of the questionnaire and codebook. This will all be revised when I have time.

Open-ended responses

I am not including in the shared files (yet) the open-ended question responses, which include descriptions of “other” name change patterns, as well as a general notes field, which is full of fascinating comments; given the non-random nature of the survey, this may turn out to be its most valuable contribution.

Here are a few.

Reasons:

I changed my name to my spouses because I HATED my father and it was the easiest way to ditch his name. I kept my married name after divorce. I’m currently pregnant (on my own) and plan to change my name again and now I will take the surname of my step-father, who has been my “dad” since I was 5.

“True partnership”

My wife and I had been together 10 years and through several iterations of domestic partnerships prior to marrying. Including before she completed her PhD. I didn’t want to change my name because my name flows really poetically and a change would ruin it (silly but true). She didn’t want to change her name in part because it’s what everyone in her profession know her as. I think we both also feel like our names represent our life histories and although we are a true partnership, that doesn’t negate our family histories or experiences. Which I guess is feminist of us. But we never explicitly discussed feminism as an issue.

This is complicated.

My partner and I both had our own hyphenated names already! We kept our own hyphenated names initially (and our marriage was not legally recognized at the time so there wasn’t a built-in or convenient option to change at that point anyway). When we had kids, we have them a hyphenated name, one of my last names and one of hers. Eventually we both changed to match the kids, so we all share the same hyphenated name now.

And so on. Fascinating reading!

9 Comments

Filed under Me @ work, Research reports

9 responses to “Less than half of women with PhDs in survey keep ‘maiden’ names

  1. Interesting reading. My only objection relates to this sentence: “By this reckoning, the feminist-name heyday was in the 1980s, followed by a backslide, and now a rebound of women with PhDs keeping their names.” Is keeping one’s last name necessarily “feminist”, while changing it is “backslide”? If one defines feminism in terms of women doing whatever they personally want to do, rather than following socially dictated norms in *any* direction, then that does not seem obvious to me. For example, take the woman you quote above who says “I changed my name to my spouses because I HATED my father and it was the easiest way to ditch his name.” That sounds to me like a pretty “feminist” decision, and certainly not constituting a “backslide” – quite a judgemental term!

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    • E.

      There’s a difference between the choices of individual women, who of course should do whatever they want with their own names and not feel that they need to care what anyone else thinks about it, and the social pattern that women, but not men, change their names. That pattern is anti-feminist even if the decisions of individuals are complex.

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      • So you’re trying to avoid blaming individual women for their choices, because you realize that would be uncomfortable, but you’re willing to blame women in the aggregate for the average choice they make across the group? Is that really defensible? It seems to me that if “the decisions of individuals are complex”, then the behavior of the aggregate is also, inevitably, complex.

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        • E.

          The decisions individuals make are complex *in the context of a social norm that women, but not men, change their names*

          The norm is sexist

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          • The norm is certainly sexist. But the decision individuals make are complex regardless, and so blaming individuals, whether in the singular or in the aggregate, for the choices they make is presumptuous. Judge the norm, but don’t judge individuals for such choices unless you know them personally and deeply (and perhaps not even then).

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    • Jenny

      I’ve noticed that many women will change last names because they “hated” male parental figures, but hardly *any* males will change their last names to their female partner’s even if they have the same conflicted relationship with their father.

      I think it’s more acceptable for women to say “I hated my father so changed it to another man’s last name” as a feminist escape hatch – but we all know Choice Feminism can still support the patriarchy. Just because you choose a patriarchal standard, doesn’t mean its feminist.

      Rarely do I ever see a man take on his wife’s last name because he hated his father. But I often see women take on another man ‘s last name because they’ve hated theirs.

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      • So… maybe it’s the men who don’t change their last name even though they hate their father who are the un-feminist ones, inasmuch as they are sticking with the name assigned to them by the patriarchy even though they have good reason not to do so? Assuming that a woman who changes her name is looking for a “feminist escape hatch”, rather than granting her the autonomy to make her own decisions, seems rather patronizing and, well, un-feminist.

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        • Jenny

          Ah yes, just on time. I can guess which category you may fall into. You’re covering the thread with a lot of vitriol, which only you have to simmer in at the end of the day.

          Take care.

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          • “Vitriol”? What in my post constituted “vitriol”? I’m advocating for men considering changing their last names if they dislike their father, just as women sometimes choose to; isn’t that a positive, feminist position to take?? You’re the one accusing women of looking for “feminist escape hatches” when they make a reasonable choice to change a name that they have good reason to dislike. That, to me, looks an awful lot like “vitriol”. But whatever.

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