Relationships

Is A Lavish Wedding a Prelude to Divorce?

The alarming statistics--maybe you should say "no" to the dress

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Thomas Carlyle, 19th century defender of serfdom and slavery, famously dubbed economics “the dismal science.” As if to prove him wrong, economics professors in recent decades have been tackling provocative, hot button issues, such as the relationship between legal abortion and STDs, between poker winnings and dinner tabs, between the sexual revolution and shotgun weddings, not to mention several books’ worth of bizarre topics from the “Freakonomics” authors.

Recently, two professors of economics at Emory University decided to explore the association between wedding spending (including the price of the engagement ring) and the duration of marriages among over 3,000 ever-married survey respondents.

Does a big sparkly costing two months’ salary and a fairytale wedding guarantee happily-ever-after? Their findings are intriguing. Although they decline to speculate in their paper, “A Diamond Is Forever and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration,” one offered possible explanations for their findings to a CNN reporter:
 

"It could be that the type of couples who have a … (cheap wedding) are the type that are a perfect match for each other," said Professor Hugo M. Mialon, who co-authored the study with Andrew M. Francis.

"Or it could be that having an inexpensive wedding relieves young couples of financial burdens that may strain their marriage," he said.

I personally can’t see any connection between “cheap wedding” and “perfect match,” but it’s true that starting married life massively in debt from a wedding extravaganza can add to the strain of adjusting to life together, especially if the spectacular-part was her idea and he now grudgingly faces a year of self-denial to pay for wretched excesses that meant nothing to him. But this is not the main reason why cheap wedding celebrations with many, many guests are associated with more enduring marriages, while weddings costing over $20,000 are associated with a higher risk of marital dissolution.
 
This quote by an unknown author hints, I think, at one reason underlying the economists’ findings:
 

I dreamed of a wedding of elaborate elegance, a church filled with family and friends. I asked him what kind of a wedding he wished for. He said one that would make me his wife.

Ouch. Is the wedding industry to blame for the misplaced priorities that propelled the average price of a wedding (per an annual survey by theknot.com) to $29,858 in 2013? The authors cite the impact of De Beers’ slogan “a diamond is forever” and fairytale photos in “Bride’s” magazine for redefining what brides expect in engagement rings and weddings. Advertising certainly contributed to the growth in US wedding industry revenues, which exceeded $50 billion in 2014. But it’s kind of like asking: Which came first, the wedding divas or David Tutera? A couple of episodes of "My Fair Wedding" are enough to see that his role is only to make the clients’ fantasy weddings come true.

Here are some of the authors’ main findings:

Among men, “spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring is associated with a 1.3 times greater hazard of divorce as compared to spending between $500 and $2,000.” However, buying a ring costing more than $8,000 significantly lowers the hazard of divorce for both men and women. One might be tempted to conclude that an expensive ring is evidence of not having financial worries and that alone accounts for longer marriages. But when we look at wedding costs, we find an inverse proportion between the amount spent on the wedding and duration of marriage.

Among men, “compared with spending between $5,000 and $10,000 on the wedding, spending less than $1,000 is associated with half the hazard of divorce.” The more that is spent on the wedding, the higher the hazard for divorce among men. This is also true, and dramatically more so, among women. Spending more than $20,000 on the wedding is associated with 1.6 times the hazard of divorce among women. In a sub-sample of recently married men and women, the hazard of divorce when spending $20,000 or more on the wedding was 3.5 times higher among women than the hazard for women whose weddings cost between $5,000 and $10,000.