June 26, 2011
Are women who take their spouse's name judged unfairly at work?
I recently got married with the least amount of fanfare possible. No engagement announcement. No ring. No dress. No floral arrangements, seating charts, Jordan almonds, bridesmaids, or high-priced photographer (the picture at the left is not of me). Just a surprise midweek announcement to a handful of guests, and a 60-second ceremony at our house a couple days later.
[Flickr photo by Lee J Haywood]
A few people -- most of them a generation ahead of me -- asked if I was changing my name. But most people who know me knew I wouldn't.
I'm in my forties and don't plan to have kids, so a name change at this point in life seems strange to me. A big part of this has to do with my profession. I'm known as Michelle Goodman, and not just on my resume and LinkedIn profile, but on articles, books, blog posts, websites, and more. In today's brand-is-everything business world, changing my name now -- no matter how unoriginal it is -- seems almost foolish.
According to researchers at the University of Tilburg in Holland, women who take their husband's name could make $500,000 less over the course of a lifetime than those who don't change their name.
Using existing data on 2,400+ married Dutch women, researchers found that women who didn't change their name had more education and fewer children, worked more, and made more money.
But this isn't how researchers arrived at their half-million-dollar conclusion. Instead, they asked 50 university students for their impressions of two fictitious female job applicants, one who'd taken her husband's name and one who hadn't. Students deemed the applicants who'd kept their own name "less dependent, more ambitious, and more intelligent." They also deemed them more hirable and likely to earn a higher salary (3,020 euros, as opposed to the 2,159 euros their more dependent, less driven, less smart counterparts would earn).
From there, researchers did a little math and made the extremely thin argument that women who change their name could be leaving $500,000 on the table throughout their lives. Quite a leap, given that the study participants had not even set foot in the workforce yet. (More detailed synopsis of the study here. Entire study here.)
As SmartMoney put it:
[T]he 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.
Also taking issue with the study, the site Mogulite called the findings "totally backwards," arguing:
If you're a successful married woman, it's just likely you aren't going to change your name, a fact which is even more true in the age of the Internet and social media. After working tirelessly to establish themselves in the business world, would a woman suddenly change her name and potentially lose name recognition?
But there's another reason why this study -- and why judging professionals based on their name -- is stupid: When it comes to marriage and last names, we've entered an era of anything goes. Hyphenated surnames abound, couples invent new surnames for themselves, men take women's names, we're making progress with same-sex marriage (nice job, New York!), and many people enter marriage with an already hyphenated name, courtesy of parents who grappled with some of the same questions (what solution surname-splicing spouses will come up with when each already has a hyphenated name is anybody's guess).
Of course, judgments about whether a married woman should take her spouse's last name still exist. They probably always will. Here's hoping employers can keep from making the same judgments. A woman's last name should never affect her chances of being hired or earning her full potential.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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