What Weddings Mean

04.04.2012, 6:57 PM


Number of Weddings and Inflation-Adjusted Average Cost Per U.S. Wedding, for Selected Years:

 1984                                     2.5m weddings                          $17,000 per wedding

1990                                     2.3m weddings                          $ 26,500 per wedding

2006                                    2.2m U.S. weddings                  $ 31,000 per wedding

Our assigment:  Discuss. 

My first observation (ht to Judith Martin):  The size of the party and the cultural meaning of  the event stand in roughly inverse relationship. 



9 Responses to “What Weddings Mean”

  1. La Lubu says:

    That really blows my mind—to the point that I wonder where they’re getting their figures. I’ve never been to or heard of any wedding (other than those covered in the mass media) that cost more than $5000—which is at the high end of weddings where I’m from (note: my union hall puts on an annual Christmas Dance/Awards Banquet that has a nice catered dinner and a couple hours of dancing for—oh, usually 300 people….we spend around six grand for that).

    No…seriously. What the hell is costing that much money? I know what it costs to rent a typical union hall, social club, or church basement. I know how much it costs to hire a caterer. I know what kegs of beer and bottles of wine cost, and the cost of a bartender. How the hell is it humanly possible to spend $31,000 on a wedding? Are you kidding me? That’s more than the median annual income in the US. Who is doing this, and where are they doing it?

  2. Alana S. says:

    Interesting as many people putt off their weddings until they can afford the perfect party too.

  3. La Lubu says:

    Interesting as many people putt off their weddings until they can afford the perfect party too.

    See, I don’t think this is true across the board—maybe for a certain socioeconomic set where a great deal of visible consumption gains status points (that translate into social and possibly material advantages)…but for the average USian? I’ve spent my whole life living in the Rust Belt. I’m the “average USian” (statistically)….and I haven’t seen that dynamic. People get married when they feel they’re ready for it…and don’t tend to put a whole lot of money into it.

    (side note: for many midwesterners of average means, broadly speaking, spending over a certain amount attracts approbation. For example: an open bar—that gets the side eye from people. Beer and wine are expected, but “open bar” is seen as “who you tryin’ to impress?” The general thought here is that anything past dinner and dancing is better spent on a nice honeymoon or a nice home—-don’t waste it on one night, especially one night that is only going to be mildly fun, basically a dressier version of a family reunion. Which is why “wedding” and “perfect party” don’t belong in the same sentence. Weddings are formal affairs, and wedding receptions are more sedate than the average party because people aren’t comfortable in formal wear, they don’t go on long into the night, and grandparents and children are present—-weddings and/or receptions that prohibit children are seen as bizarre here.)

  4. Phil says:

    How the hell is it humanly possible to spend $31,000 on a wedding?

    I thought the same thing, perhaps because I’m a (former) Midwesterner, too. But, realize that with an average, a few outlying statistics on the high end can skew the results much more than a few outlying statistics on the low end.

    If, in a small community, one wedding costs $300,000.00, it has the same impact on the overall average as would ten weddings that cost $30,000.00. And it would take a hundred weddings costing $3,000.00 to offset a single $300,000.00 wedding (in terms of skewing the average.)

    I suspect, though I don’t have evidence for this, that the real story here may be that for the subset of people who have mega-expensive weddings, the amount spent on a wedding has gone up drastically since 1984, but the uptick for middle-class and lower-class weddings may be less pronounced.

    In this instance, I think perhaps the most telling statistic for wedding costs would be the mode, not the mean or median. I wonder, if we round the costs to, say, the nearest thousand, what is most commonly spent on a wedding?

  5. Alana S. says:

    David and Amber Lapp did a project called “Love & Marriage in Middle America” and if I remember correctly, one of the recurring patterns in their research was young couples of modest means delaying marriage because they couldn’t afford a certain standard for their wedding.

  6. La Lubu says:

    one of the recurring patterns in their research was young couples of modest means delaying marriage because they couldn’t afford a certain standard for their wedding.

    Ahh, but was that really the reason, or was that an acceptable reason to give to a researcher that wouldn’t be questioned (translation: the natural conclusion being that if you couldn’t afford something really cheap like a wedding, you couldn’t afford the cost of married life).

    I mean, when I was married, people would often ask me why I hadn’t immediately started having children yet. “I can’t afford it right now” was my stock answer, because that was the answer that got questioned the least—people accepted that as an answer because a household with children requires more money to function. But it wasn’t my main reason. My main reason in the first year of my marriage was that I wanted to finish schooling of some sort, so that I could be gainfully employed—I, personally, regardless of whether or not I was going to have children, did not want a lifetime of the minimum wage. (it sucked) After my husband became an alcoholic, children were off the table for me, period—I was raised in an alcoholic home and could not in good conscience bring a child into one, period. Until he quit drinking, I was unwilling to have children regardless of our financial circumstances (which of course, were impacted by his alcoholism—his refusal to work was couched in my refusal to have children until he stopped drinking and started getting his act back together).

    Those weren’t reasons I wanted to get into long discussions with for anyone, let alone people I didn’t know very well. “Can’t afford it” sufficed. I suspect that a lot of young people who gave that as a reason had other reasons more relevant to their life, but open to criticism from the peanut gallery. Who wants to say, “I don’t want to get married because I don’t know if I trust my partner that much?” or “as long as I’m single, I can exert a form of control over my partner that I can’t if we get married” or “my partner is a great, fun date—but is seriously immature; I’m waiting for him/her to grow up before getting married, and staying single is my escape hatch”? To strangers? Please.

  7. Over the last few decades, the average age of marriage has gone up. As people get older, on average they can afford to spend more.

    Also, the people who choose to get married are, on average, wealthier:

    Marriage, while declining among all groups, remains the norm for adults with a college education and good income but is now markedly less prevalent among those with less income and education, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

    This isn’t news to anyone who reads, well, this blog. But obviously, as the average wealth of the people who marry rises, the average amount spent on weddings rises as well. It would be strange and surprising if they didn’t.

    That said, keep in mind that the figures don’t come from a scientific representative sample of weddings; according to ABC news, they come from a survey of the subscribes of Brides Magazine and visitors to the Brides website. I’m pretty sure that the people in my circles — who have more low-cost “alternative” wedding ceremonies — are not subscribers to Brides.

    And also, what Phil said about mean vs median. From that same ABC news article:

    According to a survey from TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com’s 2010 Real Wedding Survey published this March, the average, or mean, cost of a wedding was $26,984 last year, including the engagement ring but not including the honeymoon. That was a 5 percent decrease from 2009. The 2010 median cost, however, was $16,453, which may mean people are paying less than it seems.

  8. Jeffrey says:

    I’ve attended a number of weddings that easily exceeded the average cost, especially when the honeymoon was included. Professionals in their late 20s with large families and many friends in expensive urban areas. Heck, I went to a wedding where the groom rode in on an elephant, in keeping with Indian tradition.

    But Barry is right that the source of the data likely skews the data upwards.

  9. Peter Hoh says:

    If these statistics do not include all the couples who spent very little on their wedding, these are essentially worthless numbers, correct?