This Type Of Man Is Most Likely To Take His Wife's Last Name, Study Suggests

Would you change your last name?

Even as traditional gender roles have shifted to create more egalitarian marriages, there's one antiquated practice that still persists: a wife taking her husband's last name. But how often does the reverse happen? Who are these husbands taking their wife's last names, and what, if anything, do they have in common?

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To answer these questions, Portland State University sociology professor Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer analyzed data collected from a nationally representative survey asking men if they made any change to their surnames in their most recent marriage. Of the 877 men surveyed, only 3 percent — a total of 27 men — changed their last name. The majority of those men (25) took their wife's name, while two chose a hyphenated version. 

For the men who kept their name, 87 percent reported that their wife took their last name. Though the majority of women did stick to traditional gender norms, four percent of women hyphenated their name, and in six percent of couples, neither partner changed their last name.

According to the study, published in the May Journal of Family Issues, what influenced this decision the most was the man's education level (both his own and relative to his wife's). Among men with less than a high school degree, 10.3 percent changed their last name. That percentage decreased for both men with a high school degree but no college (3.6 percent) and men with any college (2 percent). None of the survey respondents with an advanced degree changed their surname.

Those conducting the study reasoned that this trend had nothing to do with men's attitudes about gender, as better-educated men tend to be more egalitarian. Instead, men with more education and, consequently, more professional recognition potentially have more to lose by changing their last name. 

The same, however, goes for working women. Shafer noted that her findings mirror other studies about the women most likely to keep their maiden names after marriage. Because they get married later, usually after becoming established in their careers, they choose to preserve the name associated with their professional identities. This is especially true for medical professionals — of both genders. 

Though men and women in dual-income households can both benefit from keeping their last names, modern society still expects women — and only women — to change their name. "Sometimes people think that if women keep their own name and make men change their name, it's women being selfish or bucking tradition when they should follow gender norms," Shafer told Science Daily. "We expect women to be the ones to caretake and give to their families in a way that we don't expect of men."

While the study found that as men's education level increased their likelihood to take their wife's last name decreased, there was a notable exception to this trend. When wives had more education than their husbands, the men were less likely to change their last names than those who had the same amount of education as their wives. Because wives with higher education levels may also have higher earning potential, Shafer speculates that these husbands keep their last names as a way to maintain certain aspects of traditional gender roles and compensate for not being the family breadwinner. 

Though convention still prevails in this traditional institution, Shafer did note that the younger men surveyed were more likely to take their wives' names. She believes future research could delve into the effect age at first marriage could have on surname choice and learn whether future generations are more willing to try something new. 

Cover photo via Micheile Henderson I Unsplash

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