Support for married couples’ right to use different surnames has reached a record high, while the proportion against it dropped to a new low--but public opinion on the issue is moving slowly.

With 42.5 percent of respondents in favor of the proposed “elective dual-surname system” for married people, the support level is still well short of a majority. Those against the legal change represented 29.3 percent of respondents.

The findings of the survey of the legal system concerning family were published by the Cabinet Office in February.

Under the current Civil Law, Japanese couples have to choose one surname when they officially register their marriage. In most cases, women change their last names to their husbands’, which critics say causes problems and puts women at a disadvantage professionally.

The Japanese government has maintained a cautious stance on the issue to date, saying “Public opinion is sharply divided.”

In 1996, the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice, an advisory panel, submitted a report to the justice minister calling for a revision of the Civil Law to allow married couples to use either the same or separate surnames, but the recommendation was not acted on.

The recent survey was conducted between November and December 2017 in interview style, targeting a random sample of 5,000 people aged 18 and older across the nation. The response rate was 59 percent. Three options were given as answers to each question.

The 42.5 percent who support the elective dual-name surname system marked a 7-point increase from the last survey in 2012. The previous high of 42.1 percent was recorded in 2001. The 29.3 percent of people who said there was “no need” for the system marked a 7.1 point decrease from the last survey.

A further 24.4 percent agreed with the statement “married couples should use the same last name, but it is acceptable to revise the law to allow them to use their pre-marriage surnames as in the workplace.”

Among respondents who support the system, 19.8 percent answered that they themselves also want to use their family names from before marriage.

By age group, around 50 percent of 60-and-unders support the system. But the rate dropped to 28.1 percent among 70-and-overs, and 52.3 percent of the older age category said the system is not needed. By sex, there were no major differences in opinion.

Moreover, 67.4 percent answered that they think there are people who do not marry legally because they want to keep their surnames, and the idea that married couples’ last names being different has no influence on family unity was agreed with by 64.3 percent. Both outcomes marked increases since the last survey.

“I think that the survey result shows that people are feeling less resistent about the idea of separate surnames for married couples,” said Yoko Sakamoto, director of “mNet-Information Network for Amending the Civil Code” a nonprofit organization calling for the change in the law.

“The government should rush the amendment of the law, following the change of public awareness,” said Sakamoto.