Study: Less educated men most likely to take wife’s last name after marriage

PORTLAND, Ore. — Recent years have seen a significant cultural shift towards challenging old traditions and antiquated ways of thinking. From the debates surrounding civil war-era statues in the south to the #MeToo movement, it feels like a new generation of Americans are more willing than ever to challenge the status quo. One time-honored tradition regarding marriage is the bride taking on the last name of her new husband, but more women are opting to keep their last names after tying the knot. Moreover, while it is still a generally rare occurrence, some men are actually choosing to take their wife’s last name. Interestingly, a study conducted at Portland State University finds that men who change their surnames after getting married tend to be less educated.

The research team, led by PSU sociology professor Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer, analyzed data from a nationally representative survey that had asked 877 men about any changes they made to their surname following their most recent marriage.

Among all surveyed men, only 27 (3%) had changed their surname. Of that group, 25 completely dropped their given last name in favor of their wife’s, while two created a hyphenated combination of both surnames. Regarding the additional 97% of respondents who had kept their last name, 87% said their wife took their surname, 4% said their wife opted for a hyphenated mix, and 6% said that neither changed their last name.

The study’s authors were interested to see if the man’s level of education played a role in the chances he would change his name at all following a marriage. They also compared each man’s education to that of his wife’s.

The results illustrated a clear trend; among surveyed men without a high school degree, 10.3% changed their surname. That number dipped to 3.6% of men with a high school diploma but no college education and only 2% of men who had at least some college experience under their belt. None of the participants with an advanced degree changed their last names.

According to the study, most men with a formal education have likely adopted more progressive views towards women’s rights and gender roles, but due to their education and degrees these men also find themselves in high paying positions. With this in mind, these men may have more to lose by changing their surname, while less educated men may have less to lose.

This study’s findings are inline with prior research on women who keep their own surnames after marriage; these brides usually get married later in life after starting a successful career, as such they are inclined to keep their already established professional identity.

“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 comments. “We expect women to be the ones to caretake and give to their families in a way that we don’t expect of men.”

Researchers also noted that men whose wives had more education, and potentially more earning power, than them were far less likely to change their last names than grooms who had about the same level of education as their wife. Shafer speculates that these men may keep their surname as a way to maintain at least a little of their typical gender role despite the fact that their wife likely earns more money than they do.

Shafer says she would like to see future research focus on whether or not a couple’s age at the time of a marriage influences surname choices. Additionally, younger grooms seem to be more open to the notion of taking on their wife’s surname, so the research team is curious to see if future generations of men will be more willing to change their surnames.

The study is published in the Journal of Family Issues.