A persistent advertising campaign in the United States claims that “A Diamond is Forever” and provides more explicit guidance in the rhetorical question, “How else could two months’ salary last forever?”
Emory University’s Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon evaluated the purported connection between wedding-related expenditures to duration of marriage based on a survey of more than 3,000 ever-married volunteers in the United States.
They conducted a number of statistical controls across nearly 40 demographic and relationship characteristics, and found that marriage duration in this widely varied group was inversely related to expenditures on engagement ring and wedding ceremony.
Francis and Mialon noted that the wedding industry is a big business in the U.S.: More than $50 billion in 2014, and the average wedding cost in the U.S. during 2013 was an astonishing $29,858.
However, most people in the U.S. are unable to afford this lavish expenditure because it represents about 60% of the median U.S. household income.
Further, U.S. wages are increasing at a much slower rate than increases in average wedding costs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor – only about 2% over the last several years.
As a result, expenditures of this magnitude can induce stress and disagreements among people who make financial commitments beyond their capacity, and can be associated with shorter-duration marriages.
Support for this speculation comes Francis and Mialon’s finding that women who spent more than $20,000 on the wedding – well below the average, according to TheKnot.com – are 3.5 times more likely to divorce than those who spent between $5,000 and $10,000 – still a significant sum in relation to average annual income.
Likewise, men who spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring ended their marriages 30% more often than those who spent between $500 and $2,000.
Some expenditures may be anachronisms: Engagement rings were originally a contractual assurance if the marriage promise was breached, noted University of Toronto’s Margaret F. Brinig.
It could be argued that there may be less current-day utility for this practice in light of no-fault divorce laws in many areas of the U.S.
Similarly, premarital gifts like a ring continuously worn contain visible “signaling properties” to indicate that a woman is “in contract” to wed, remarked Rutgers University’s Lee Cronk and Bria Dunham of Boston University.
Some wedding characteristics were associated with longer-enduring marriages: People whose weddings had higher attendance had longer-lasting marriages, perhaps related to participants having a strong social network to provide support, encouragement, and reminders of wedding promises during the inevitable challenges of marriage.
“…Weddings associated with the lower likelihood of divorce are those that are relatively inexpensive but high in attendance,” noted Francis and Mialon.
People who went on a honeymoon, regardless of cost, also tended to stay with their spouses longer than those who did not, suggesting that this ritual may reinforce the interpersonal bond after a sometimes stressful but happy event.
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Great post. Having worked as a wedding photographer for many years I noticed very similar behaviors. When couples were focused on the joy of marriage and not all the fluff they were happier, more engaged with each other and had great support from family and friends.
The bigger the wedding “show” the less connected the people seemed to be.
I liked the smaller weddings even though many of them served green punch.
Thank you so much, KC, for your “field research” validation of these correlational studies, which probably never encountered green punch as they delved into archival data.
Thanks for your “word from the front.”