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The $500K Question: Keep Your Maiden Name Or Change?

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(credit: CBS) Amelia Santaniello
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s a decision every woman has to make before getting married: Whether to change her name.

In the 1990s, 23 percent of women decided to keep their maiden names. But that dropped in the last decade to 18 percent. That makes a new study even more interesting, because it states those maiden names could be worth as much as $500,000.

For brides and grooms, their wedding cake signifies a new beginning. A magical moment, filled with promise. And for many brides, a time of change.

“Never really looked at it as losing my identity or anything like that,” said Kristin Gast, “just more of becoming a new family.”

Gast will change her last name when she marries Andy Lenander on July 16.

“You build a brand name for yourself,” she said, “and that’s kind of all you have.”

She built that brand online, and in public relations, currently at the United Way. So, she realizes she’ll be trading in some of that investment when she changes identities.

“I have to be really thoughtful about how I transition and letting people know that I’m still the same person,” she said. “My email just has a slightly different ring to it.”

But a new Dutch study claims women who keep their maiden names will make a lot more money — $500,000 more over the course of their careers.

“It’s come in handy to have that name, obviously,” said Beth LaBreche, “because I built a brand around it, and I built a business that uses my last name.”

Beth knows a bit about the name game. Hers is all over the place at her Minneapolis PR firm.

“It’s an unusual last name,” she said, “so I think it’s more memorable than Johnson.”

Beth married Eric Johnson 21 years ago, and that worked out pretty well. With one exception.

“What he makes fun of,” she laughed, “is when he gets mail that says Eric LaBreche. And then he promptly throws that away.”

Still, gender issues in the workplace are no laughing matter.

“The women who got the higher salaries (in the study), got the promotions, and got the job were associated with more masculine traits,” said Debra Fitspatrick, who leads the Center for Women and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

She said this study mirrors others she’s seen, and the question shouldn’t be about women changing their names, but about bosses becoming more aware of their biases.

“There’s a lot of research,” she said, “that shows when you make people aware of these kinds of things ahead of time that it can have an impact and change the outcome.”

The Dutch study had college students act like bosses, asking them to hire and promote hypothetical women who either used their maiden or married names. So, it was really all about stereotypes and biases.

If you’re wondering about your own biases, you might want to take Harvard’s Implicit Bias test.  It takes about 10 minutes and the results help researchers study the unconscious brain.

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