In their paper, economists Andrew Francis-Tan and Hugo M. Mialon analyzed how wedding expenses relate to marriage duration. Using survey data from over 3,000 Americans, they found that spending more on engagements and weddings correlated with higher divorce rates.
The Research Background
Marriage researchers have long studied predictors of marital stability. Factors like age at marriage, education level, income, and relationship history have all been linked to divorce risk. However, economists Francis-Tan and Mialon identified one under-studied predictor: wedding spending.
They explain in their paper’s introduction:
“In this paper, we evaluate the association between wedding spending and marriage duration using data from a survey of over 3,000 ever-married persons in the United States. Controlling for a number of demographic and relationship characteristics, we find evidence that marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony.”
The researchers’ goal was to isolate the effect of wedding expenditures by accounting for typical confounding variables.
As they describe:
“Our results indicate that marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony, even after controlling for a number of demographic and relationship characteristics.”
The Data & Methodology
Francis-Tan and Mialon used data from a multi-year survey administered by a private market research company. The initial dataset had over 9,000 respondents. The researchers limited their sample to the 3,151 respondents who had been married at least once.
The survey included questions about each respondent’s marital history, demographic traits, and expenses related to their first wedding. Specifically, participants reported costs for the engagement ring, wedding ceremony, clothing/accessories, flowers, photos, music, invitations, transportation, and rehearsal dinner.
To examine associations between wedding spending and marriage duration, the researchers used survival analysis and regression modeling. They controlled for variables including:
- Age at marriage
- Education level
- Annual income
- Number of wedding guests
- Number of prior marriages
- Whether couples cohabited before marriage
As the researchers elaborate:
“Our analysis controls for observable characteristics, including income, education, household consumption, the number of invitees, as well as characteristics of the relationship – such as whether the couple cohabited before marriage. Since we also control for the degree of religiosity and frequency of religious attendance, much of the effect of religion is accounted for.”
The Findings on Wedding Spending & Divorce
Francis-Tan and Mialon’s analysis uncovered intriguing results about associations between aspects of wedding expenditures and marriage duration:
- Engagement ring:“We find evidence that marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring.” Each $1,000 increase in ring spending correlated with a 1.3 times higher hazard of divorce.
- Wedding ceremony: “Marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the wedding ceremony.” Each $1,000 increase in ceremony cost predicted a 1.1 times higher hazard.
- Other wedding elements: Spending on the wedding dress, invitations, transportation, flowers, photos, rehearsal dinner, and music showed *no significant association* with divorce risk.
To put this in context, the average engagement ring expenditure reported was $4,000. Average ceremony cost was $11,000. So a difference of $5,000 for the ring or $10,000 for the ceremony would correlate with substantially higher divorce odds.
The researchers summarize:
“In particular, we find that the more expensive the engagement ring and the wedding ceremony, the shorter the marriage duration, whereas we do not find evidence that other wedding expenses predict marriage duration.”
Interpreting the Results
Francis-Tan and Mialon emphasize their findings show correlations but do not prove causation. There are many potential explanations for the links between higher wedding spending and divorce:
- Couples who splurge may have unrealistic expectations about marriage being perfect. As the authors write, “couples who have expensive weddings may also have unrealistic expectations about marriage in general.”
- The expenses could signal low commitment. The researchers explain: “Those who spend large amounts on visible parts of the wedding… may also tend to prioritize symbolic capital—the public demonstration that the partner is valued—over the partner and the relationship itself.”
- Overspending could reflect poor financial habits. As they note: “This pattern of findings is consistent with the argument that excessive spending on the wedding is a poor start to the marriage.”
- High costs could cause financial stress. The authors posit: “The financial burden imposed by expensive weddings could put additional strain on the marriage and increase the likelihood of divorce.”
- Relationships with inherent problems may use lavish weddings as “signals of commitment.” But these signals do not necessarily reflect the underlying relationship quality.
Overall, Francis-Tan and Mialon’s study highlights the need for more research on how and why wedding expenditures may predict marital outcomes. They conclude:
“Our findings provide suggestive evidence that an expensive ring and wedding may signal poor marriage outcomes at an aggregate level. These results prompt important avenues for future research.”
The next step will be identifying the nuanced mechanisms at play.
While this study had a large dataset, the researchers acknowledge limitations:
- Self-reported data – Spending amounts and marital history came from participant recollection and estimates.
- Limited generalizability – The sample was predominantly white, older, and higher income. Findings may differ for other demographics.
- Restricted scope – Many factors beyond wedding expenditures likely influence divorce rates.
- Ambiguous directionality – The analysis shows correlation not causation. It is unclear whether higher wedding costs drive divorce risk or simply associate with existing risk.
- No information on wedding budgets – Actual wedding spending may matter less than the amount relative to couples’ budgets and resources. But the survey did not collect budget data.
Overall, this observational study offers an intriguing starting point. But there are many open questions future research must address.
Key Implications & Takeaways
While not definitive, Francis-Tan and Mialon’s paper has important implications:
- Wedding spending should not be viewed as causing divorce directly. Many factors influence marital success.
- However, higher wedding expenses may act as a warning sign that could prompt couples to address any underlying relationship issues.
- Discussing wedding budget intentions may help couples align their priorities and expectations.
- The engagement ring and ceremony appear to be the elements most linked to spending amounts and divorce odds. Focusing on their symbolism over cost may benefit couples.
- Further research is needed to replicate these findings and uncover the nuanced behavioral mechanisms at play.
In their own words, the researchers summarize:
“Our findings do not imply that getting married lavishly causes divorce. They merely shed light on factors correlated with marital stability, and provide suggestive evidence that an expensive ring and wedding may signal poor marriage outcomes at an aggregate level.”
Overall, Francis-Tan and Mialon’s work delivers a thought-provoking reminder that marital success depends on much more than the price tag of a wedding. Their study should motivate couples to reflect carefully on the values and priorities underlying their wedding spending decisions.
Because while splurging may predict divorce, discussing expenses openly could set couples on a path to health and happiness.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Viral Chatter.
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Martha A. Lavallie
Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.