Tradition still sways married Swiss women

Only one in five women married in Switzerland since 2013 chose to keep her maiden name after marriage since the law changed to allow them to do so.

Tradition still sways married Swiss women
Since 2013 Swiss women can legally keep their surname after marriage. Photo: Gary Minnaert

Prior to 2013, women had to either take their husband’s surname or double their surname with his.

Since the law changed, women in Switzerland can choose to keep their own surname, or the couple can choose either the woman or the man’s surname as their married name.

Double names such as Meier Müller are no longer allowed. The hyphenated version, for example Meier-Müller, is allowed to be used in everyday life but is not considered a person’s official registered name.

According to official figures received by the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper, 71 percent of women married in 2013 and 2014 decided to take on their husband’s surname while just 24 percent kept their own.

Only two percent of men decided to take their new wife’s surname as their married name.

Speaking to the paper, Marco Kühnis, director of the Davos civil status office, said the figures indicate a growing trend among young people towards traditional values.

“Young people today give more importance to traditions than they did ten or 20 years ago,” he said.

Fleur Weibel, a sociologist from the University of Basel, told the paper that most couples want to have the same surname to appear as a united family.

“Since the double name option is no longer available, most people opt for the man’s name. For many men it is unimaginable to take their wife’s surname. Unless, perhaps, their own name is bizarre.”

According to Weibel many women therefore face the dilemma of having to choose between keeping their identity and family cohesion.

She is among many people calling for the reintroduction of the official double name, “so that men and women can keep their identity,” she told the paper.

Swiss couples’ still-traditional stance on married names is on a par with other European countries that allow a choice of surname.

In Germany, where women may keep their surnames after marriage, just 19 percent chose to do so, according to a 2014 market research study.

However laws on the subject vary wildly across Europe.

In France married women legally keep their maiden name as their official name, although they may take their husband’s name or double-barrel the two for everyday life.

And in Greece women are required to keep their own surnames for life, although they can add their husband’s (and he hers) to their own if they wish.

In the UK women can choose any number of options, including keeping their name, double-barrelling it or ‘meshing’ it with their husband’s to create an entirely new name.

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Should stay-at-home parents in Switzerland be paid a salary?

A new Swiss divorce ruling sparks a proposal that parents who stay at home and take care of children while the other spouse works, should be compensated by the government.

Should stay-at-home parents in Switzerland be paid a salary?
Housework should be compensated by the government, some say. Photo by Guillaume Suivant / AFP

What is the new divorce rule?

Switzerland’s highest court has handed down a decision removing the responsibility of an employed spouse to financially support the partner who has not worked outside of home during marriage.

While the ruling doesn’t mention gender, it particularly affects women.

Specifically, the court lifted the so-called “45-year-old rule”, under which stay-at-home spouses were not obligated to support themselves after divorce, if they were over 45 years old.

In its ruling, the court said that “the possibility of gainful employment must always be assumed” regardless of age, though exemptions could be made in some situations, including care of small children, lack of professional experience, and health.

How has this ruling spawned off the idea of compensating stay-at-home parents?

It came from a Swiss writer and editor Sibylle Stillhart who said in an interview that “finding a well-paying job after not having been employed at all or only part-time for years is not easy, if not impossible”.

She added that taking care of housework and children, requires 58 hours a week of “unpaid labour”.

What does she propose?

She said the state should pay income for domestic work.

“This way, if a couple separates and the woman finds herself with her dependent children and no salaried work, she would nevertheless be supported by the community for the services rendered, in particular for the education of the children who, later, will also contribute to national prosperity through their work”.

Stillhart suggested that a monthly salary of 7,000 francs for a family with two children is fair.

“Don’t tell me that Switzerland is not rich enough for that “, she added.

READ MORE: ‘Unprecedented crisis’: New figures show stark impact of pandemic on all Swiss job sectors

Is this likely to happen?

Rudolf Minsch, economist at Economiesuisse, an umbrella organisation of Swiss businesses, said the proposal is not realistic.

“This would lead to massive tax increases. And it would not be profitable from the point of view of equality between men and women at the professional level, because women could be satisfied with this income and no longer seek to enter the labour market”, he said.

Is this idea new?

Not quite. While it’s the first one of its kind to be created as a response to new divorce rulings, the idea of basic income for everyone in Switzerland was floated around before.

On June 5, 2016, Swiss voters rejected the initiative “For an unconditional basic income”, which proposed that each resident receive 2,500 francs a month, regardless of whether they are employed or not. 

 All the cantons had said no, as had 76.9 percent of the population.

A few cantons stood out by being more open to the idea, such as Basel-City (36 percent in favour), Jura (35.8 percent) and Geneva (34.7 percent).

Despite this rejection, the idea continues to circulate in Switzerland and internationally.

READ MORE: What do teachers earn in Switzerland – and where do they earn the most?