“She Might be Afraid of Commitment”: Perceptions of Women Who Retain Their Surname After Marriage

Abstract

The tradition of the wife adopting her husband’s surname continues to be widely endorsed within the U.S. and many other nations. The current research focuses on perceptions of heterosexual women who violate this tradition. Specifically, we examined how women who retain their surname are evaluated with respect to their marriage commitment and personality attributes. We also tested for sources of individual variation in these evaluations. Three studies were carried out with a total of 1201 undergraduates (912 women and 289 men) at two U.S. universities. Participants in Study 1 rated a woman who retained her surname as lower in marriage commitment than a woman who adopted her husband’s surname. They also allocated her a high proportion of agentic traits. Studies 2 and 3 demonstrated that both women and men high in social dominance orientation (SDO) were especially likely to rate a woman who retained her surname as lower in marriage commitment. Collectively, findings indicate that women who violate the marital surname tradition may encounter negative stereotypes about their marriage commitment and that these stereotypes may be particularly likely to originate from people with a preference for group-based inequality. Implications center on links between marriage traditions and broader patterns of gender inequality.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Ashley Lee and the UNLV Psychology Writing Workshop for their help and feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. We are also grateful to Janice Yoder and three anonymous reviews for their feedback during the review process. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2016 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

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Correspondence to Rachael D. Robnett.

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The current research complied with ethnic standards in participant recruitment, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. The institutional review board at both universities approved the study.

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Robnett, R.D., Underwood, C.R., Nelson, P.A. et al. “She Might be Afraid of Commitment”: Perceptions of Women Who Retain Their Surname After Marriage. Sex Roles 75, 500–513 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0634-x

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Keywords

  • Gender roles
  • Marriage
  • Traditions
  • Human courtship
  • Dominance