Are Maiden Names Really Worth $500,000?

Are Maiden Names Really Worth $500,000?
Are Maiden Names Really Worth $500,000?

By Jack Hough, SmartMoney

Forget about cash-stuffed wedding envelopes. A Dutch study suggests a way for brides to pick up an extra half million dollars by doing nothing--specifically, by not changing their names. Women who kept their maiden names were judged to be more professional than married-name doppelgangers and proved more likely to win a job, according to the research. They also attracted higher pay.

If the study results have real-world implications-and more on some limitations of the research in a moment-then as this season's brides ponder a name-change, they might consider not only their shifting sentiments but economic realities.

Professors at the University of Tilburg in the south of Holland began their research by studying existing data for more than 2,400 married women. Three-quarters had taken their husband's name, 7% had hyphenated last names and the rest kept their maiden names. That seems comparable with the U.S., where a 2004 study found that the percentage of college graduate women who kept their surnames at marriage jumped from 2% to 4% around 1975 to just less than 20% in 2001.

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According to the Dutch data, women who kept their names had higher average education levels and fewer children, and that they worked more and had higher salaries.

Next, the researchers asked 90 students (36 female, 54 male) to imagine meeting a married couple at a colleague's party. Some met Peter Bosboom and Helga Kuipers. Others met Peter and Helga Kuipers. Participants were later asked to judge imaginary Helga using five descriptions: caring, competent, dependent, intelligent and emotional. Helga Name-change was judged to be caring, dependant and emotional. Helga Kept-her-name was more intelligent and a bit more competent.

The researchers then confirmed these findings by asking 113 students about a scenario involving the fictitious Agneta. The name-keeping Agneta Vonk was judged less dependent, more intelligent and more ambitious than the name-changing Agneta Ellemers and the hyphenating Agneta Elemers-Vonk.

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Finally, the job interview. Fifty students were asked to review emails containing job applications. Attached memos indicated that the applicant was either Roos Ellemers, whose own name was Fischer before she married Dirk Ellemers, or Roos Ellemers, married to Dirk Fischer. As before, name-keeping Roos was judged less dependent, more ambitious and more intelligent. She was also more likely to be hired--a 4.3 on a scale of 1(low likelihood) to 7(high), versus 3.5 for name-changing Roos. And she nabbed a higher monthly salary--3,020 euros, versus 2,159 euros.

That's 361,708 Euros over a lifetime of working, the professors reckon. At today's exchange rate, that's more than $524,000.

Before fiancées begin arguing the matter, they might want to look at some significant limitations of the study. First, the 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. (Being Dutch, these students might have ridden their bicycles to school that day, leaving them too tired to think clearly.)

Also, the study didn't control for pre-existing judgments associated with the names. Anyone who has partied with a few Kuipers and Bosbooms knows what I'm talking about.

Nonetheless, with U.S. jobs scarce and income growth weak, it's probably best not to take chances. That's why I'm changing my name to Agneta Vonk.

Jack Hough is an associate editor at and author of
Your Next Great Stock.

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