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People Think Men Whose Wives Keep Their Last Names Are Less Masculine

... Really?

11/23/2017 12:43 EST | Updated 11/24/2017 10:20 EST
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These days, it's not assumed that a woman will take her husband's surname when they tie the knot, and many are keeping their own.

Even the term "maiden name" is kind of antiquated, when you think about it. Regardless of what a woman chooses to do, the emphasis these days is on the fact that it's her name and her choice. In fact, a recent poll found that 57 per cent of people think a married woman should take whichever name she pleases.

But it turns out that progressive public attitude doesn't exactly carry over to our perception of the husbands. A study published this week in Springer's journal Sex Roles found that people perceive men whose wives don't take their last names as less masculine and that these men have less power in their marriage.

"A woman's marital surname choice therefore has implications for perceptions of her husband's instrumentality, expressivity, and the distribution of power in the relationship," lead researcher Rachael Robnett of the University of Nevada said in a news release.

"Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couple's gender-typed personality traits."

A return to tradition

A 2009 study (granted, conducted by an online service that helps brides organize their name changes) found that 82 per cent of women in Canada changed their names within two years of being married.

A more recent survey by Macleans found that more than half of Canadian millennials and Gen Xers believe a married couple should share the same last name. Interestingly, fewer than half of boomers felt the same way.

It could be that, nowadays, changing your name isn't seen as a political issue since legal victories are already taken for granted, author Anne Kingston wrote. It could also be a matter of looking for stability at a time when one in four Canadian first marriages end in divorce, she added.

In Quebec, it's been illegal for women to change their surname when they marry since 1981, a move that was seen as progressive at the time but now has some women saying it's denying them their right to have a choice. Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau raised eyebrows on both sides of the argument by referring to herself with a hyphenated name (she previously went just by Gregoire) only after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his bid for a Liberal nomination. Some said the move was a nod to English Canada while others said it was a concession to conservative voters, according to The Globe and Mail.

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"Expressive traits"

Robnett's findings are based on three studies of 355 people carried out in the U.S. and the U.K. The first two studies found that people used more "expressive traits" to describe men whose wives kept their own last names, and that these men were perceived as less instrumental, more expressive, and as holding less power. The third study found that people who already held hostile sexist views were particularly likely to perceive these men as having less power.

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"We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles," Robnett said.

"Our findings show that they also apply stereotypes to nontraditional women's husbands."

The researchers speculated that these findings may help explain why the tradition of taking a husband's last name continues today.

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