Why does more wedding equal less marriage?

If you spend more than $20 thousand on a wedding, you are almost twice as likely to divorce as a couple spending between $5 and $10 thousand. Spend less than $1 thousand, and you are more than twice as likely to stay together. In other words, the couple that spends under a grand is four times as likely to stay together as the couple that spends 20 grand.

My marriage ought to last forever. Between the cake, the wedding dress and the preacher, my wife and I probably spent around $75.

The study that revealed this data, which was conducted by Emory University professors Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon in July and August of 2014, concludes that, while the wedding industry has “sought to link spending with long-lasting marriages,” the opposite is true. The more one spends on the engagement ring and the wedding, the less likely the marriage is to last.

Curiously, this does not hold true for money spent on the honeymoon. People who’ve had a honeymoon are 41 percent less likely to divorce than those who have not.

Francis’s and Mialon’s work has drawn a great deal of attention since it was published. And it’s left me wondering: why does more wedding equal less marriage? What is the connection?

It is surely unlikely that stinginess is the secret to a long marriage – though the economic devastation caused by divorce, particularly on women, might keep some tightfisted couples together. But if stinginess doesn’t explain it, just where does the correlation lie?

The most obvious connection between wedding cost and marital discord is the accrual of debt. The study’s authors found that people who spent less than a thousand dollars on their wedding were about 90 percent less likely to report stress over the cost of the wedding. They write: “…it is possible that wedding expenses raise the likelihood of marital dissolution given that prior literature suggests a link between economic stress and marital dissolution.”

It might also be that people who spend big dollars on engagement rings and weddings are too much concerned about what their peers think of them. The big-ticket wedding has enjoyed a wave (thankfully, now receding) of popularity. As a pastor, I’ve noticed a subtle competition between siblings and friends to have the “best” wedding. This focus on what others think, rather than on what the betrothed wants and needs, is bound to have a negative effect on any marriage.

Further, many couples spend months, sometimes most of their engagement period, preoccupied with the details of the wedding. They talk endlessly about their big day but give little thought to the rest of their lives. They finally agree on the number of people they’d like to have in the bridal party, but not on the number of children – if any – they’d like to have in their family. Some have not have even discussed it.

Another reason behind this unexpected correlation between the cost of the wedding and the duration of the marriage may have to do with the kinds of examples to which young couples are exposed. Their friends have modeled for them how to put together a fabulous wedding, but no one has modeled for them how to put together a loving and lasting marriage.

This kind of mentoring was more common in the past, when people were less mobile and communities more stable. In that setting it was common for older women to “train the younger women to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:4). Perhaps we do not think that loving a spouse or child requires any training, but the statistics suggest otherwise.

The Emory study also found that non-church attenders are far more likely to divorce than regular church attenders. The loads of money they spend on their one day at church – their wedding day – cannot make up for the absence of a meaningful connection to the church, and the encouragement and positive models it can provide.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 1/31/15

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