Does a Woman’s Marital Surname Choice Influence Perceptions of Her Husband? An Analysis Focusing on Gender-Typed Traits and Relationship Power Dynamics

Abstract

Within Western cultures, most women in heterosexual relationships adopt their husbands’ surnames after marriage. In attempting to explain the enduring nature of this practice, researchers have noted that women tend to encounter stereotypes when they break with tradition by retaining their own surnames after marriage. A complementary possibility is that stereotypes are also directed toward men whose wives violate the surname tradition. The current research provides initial insight into this possibility through three studies that were conducted in the United States and United Kingdom with undergraduate and community samples (total N = 355; 254 women and 101 men). Study 1 revealed that participants predominantly referenced expressive traits when describing a man whose wife retained her surname. Study 2 built on these findings with an experimental design. Relative to a man whose wife adhered to the surname tradition, a man whose wife retained her surname was rated as less instrumental, more expressive, and as holding less power in the relationship. In Study 3, participants high in hostile sexism were particularly likely to rate a man as lower in power when his wife retained her surname. Collectively, findings provide insight into attitudes that may help to explain the longevity of the marital surname tradition. Findings also join with prior research in revealing links between commonplace marriage traditions and gendered power dynamics.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Paul Nelson for providing feedback on an earlier version of the present paper. We are grateful to Janice Yoder and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions during the review process. Desiree Melton provided assistance with coding.

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Correspondence to Rachael D. Robnett.

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This research was carried out at two institutions. The internal review boards at both institutions approved the study. All aspects of manuscript preparation aligned with the ethical standards of the American Psychological Association. My co-authors and I verify that this research is not under-review or published elsewhere.

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Robnett, R.D., Wertheimer, M. & Tenenbaum, H.R. Does a Woman’s Marital Surname Choice Influence Perceptions of Her Husband? An Analysis Focusing on Gender-Typed Traits and Relationship Power Dynamics. Sex Roles 79, 59–71 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0856-6

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Keywords

  • Marriage attitudes
  • Sex roles
  • Masculinity
  • Femininity
  • Sexism