My Name or Yours?

My Name or Yours?

In the mid-1980s, a lot of women were choosing to keep their own names when they married, but that number has declined sharply.

Read Time:
1m 13sec

“Making a Name: Women’s Surnames at Marriage and Beyond” by Claudia Goldin and Maria Shim, in Journal of Economic Perspectives (Spring 2004), Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave., Saint Paul, Minn. 55105.

“I do. I don’t.” That might be the wedding vow of many young women who choose to keep their given names at marriage. Appar­ently, it’s being heard less often these days. After peaking in the mid-1980s, the number of “keepers” declined in the 1990s, report Goldin, a Harvard University economist, and Shim, a recent Harvard graduate.

The practice of keeping one’s maiden name varies by education and other factors. The authors looked at Massachusetts data on white women who were in their late twenties when they gave birth to their first child. In 1990, 21 percent of the college graduates were keepers; a decade later, only 13 percent. Among those with more than four years of college, the proportion of keepers dropped from 29 percent to 20 percent.

Goldin and Shim found a parallel trend among Harvard graduates. In the class of 1980, 44 percent of women who married within 10 years of graduation decided to keep their surname; in the class of 1990, only 32 percent did.

Nationwide, the authors estimate, “a shade under 20 percent” of college-educated wom­en now keep their surname when they tie the knot.

Why the change? More conservative social values, or maybe, the authors speculate, young women have gained more self-confidence and feel less peer pressure to turn their married names into proclamations for female equality.

More From This Issue