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Dream Wedding, Rapid Divorce?

Lavish weddings are associated with higher divorce risk.

Many couples dream of a lavish, fairly-tale wedding as the springboard for a perfect marriage. Yet, net of income and a score of other personal characteristics, economists Andre Francis-Tan and Hugo M. Mialon link expensive engagement rings and expensive weddings to shorter marriages.

If Francis-Tan and Mialon are correct that cheap weddings promote marital stability, it’s no wonder my husband and I are still happily together after eight years of marriage—we spent roughly $200 on our wedding. (It helped that my parents contributed cake, his parents contributed appetizers, and our venue was our living room.)

But how much do weddings usually cost? And do these expenses really cause couples to break up?

Every year, TheKnot and WeddingChannel calculate the cost of the average wedding by surveying brides registered on their websites. Although their resulting estimate of over $30 thousand in 2014 (Borreson 2015) is widely quoted in the media, Slate writer Will Oremus argues that it grossly overestimates most couples’ expenditures (Oremus 2013). The median spending in this survey—a better barometer of what “most couples” spend—is roughly $10 thousand less than the average. What is more, brides registered on wedding websites likely spend more than non-registered brides.

Still, most weddings aren’t cheap and the high price tag has important social consequences. The cost of a wedding can be one of many barriers preventing low-income couples from tying the knot (Edin and Kefalas). As Americans increasingly commodify marriage, the perceived “necessities” of even the most basic wedding ceremony may be unattainable for some low-income couples. In addition, Francis-Tan and Mialon suggest that their results may be partially explained by the financial stress resulting from wedding-related debt—this stress is likely higher for couples who spent more and financial stress increases divorce risk.

I suspect that the increasing cultural emphasis on the wedding as an end in itself may increase the incidence of failed marriages. If the desire for a dream wedding motivates the decision to get married, couples might take the plunge in less-than optimal relationships. That is, net of income and other demographic characteristics, couples who opt to spend more may be relatively more focused on the wedding than the marriage.

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Borreson, Kelsey. 2015. “Average Wedding Cost Hits All-Time High Of More Than $31,000, Survey Says.”…

Edin, Kathy, and Maria J. Kefalas. 2005. “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage.” University of California Press.

Francis-Tan, Andrew, and Hugo M. Mialon. 2015. “‘A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration.” Economic Inquiry 53(4):1919-1930.

Oremus, Will. 2013. “The Wedding Industry’s Pricey Little Secret.”…

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