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A lavish wedding does not make for a happy marriage

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Researchers found that the more lavish the wedding, the greater the likelihood of the marriage breaking up.

Researchers found that the more lavish the wedding, the greater the likelihood of the marriage breaking up.

George Clooney and his wife Amal Alamuddin

George Clooney and his wife Amal Alamuddin

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Researchers found that the more lavish the wedding, the greater the likelihood of the marriage breaking up.

The pressure for an exotic wedding in some far-flung island is there to be resisted. The recent high-profile weddings of George Clooney to Amal Alamuddin in a spree in Venice lasting five days, and of Kayne West to Kim Kardashian in Florence, both cost around $8 million. Kardashian's previous wedding lasted 72 days at a cost of $6 million.

The rise in status of the professional celebrity has made this lifestyle a much-desired commodity, and how better to achieve this than to emulate it on the wedding day.

"Dream wedding" and "perfect day" are eye-grabbing headlines that have catapulted the wedding into a lavish and lengthy event to be micro-managed down to the finest detail.

All this is reinforced by the constant headlines of these celebrity events. It has spawned a "wedding industry" that has, in its advertising, made a connection between the amount spent and living happily ever after.

Even in Ireland, weddings now frequently span a whole weekend; the entertainment is multi-layered.

There is not only the dance band on the night, but parties for the children, music the night before and brunch the day after, along with beauty treatments and spa specials. "Over the top" is a phrase that is missing from the language of the professional wedding planner.

Some recent studies have been picked up by the media that might ultimately ground some of the fiction and make-believe attached to the wedding day itself. Two economists, Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon at Emory University in Atlanta, identified a connection between the amount of money spent on the wedding and the likelihood of subsequent divorce.

Their paper is called A diamond is forever and other fairytales. They found that the more lavish the wedding, the greater the likelihood of the marriage breaking up. The threshold above which divorce increased significantly was $20,000.

This might seem strange - after all, so many factors come into play to make or break a marriage. But this study controlled for many of the factors that influence the permanence of a marriage and still identified the role of spending on the event.

A further influence was the cost of the engagement ring and a large exotic band was also associated with a higher risk of divorce than those costing less than $500 dollars.

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The obvious question is: what on earth has spending on the wedding to do with whether the relationship lasts or not? One obvious answer is that the debt accrued from the "special day" places an insurmountable burden on the couple, who start their married life owing money.

Another possibility is that many couples succumb to consumerism rather than fully appreciating what marriage is about; they forget that it is much more than the day itself and is ultimately about the long haul. This may be an example of advertising overwhelming common sense. Related to that, some couples may naively believe that the "magic of the day" will correct the problems that pre-exist in their relationship. An alternative possibility is that those opting for such weddings are themselves immature and narcissistic, attributes that make it difficult to sustain a marriage "for better or for worse".

However, a further finding in this study was that very low-cost weddings were also associated with negative outcomes. Here, the researchers identified a threshold figure of less than $500 dollars spent on the event. Thus, the couple who decide to do the low-budget wedding with few guests, and do not mark it with some celebration, are also more likely to end in divorce.

An explanation for this it that these are couples, who may not see marriage as important in itself, and so, drop into the registry office on a whim or under duress. Some may value marriage, but believe that such spending is misguided in hard times and decide to do only what is necessary to make their relationship legal.

The message of this study is what everybody knows instinctively: a wedding is an important event that should be marked with a special celebration, in the company of friends and family. It is a public exchange of vows and that is what marks it out as special.

The celebration should be commensurate with what each couple can afford. Marriages do break down even in the best of circumstances, but the risk will be lessened if the couple are grounded in the reality that the wedding day is simply a celebration and a marker for the beginning of the different phase in their life together.

If the couple adhere to these principles, they will not be beginning life together in debt - one of the common grounds cited to divorce lawyers as the reason for the relationship breakdown.

Exotic flower arrangements and chilled champagne will be but distant memories when the banks close in or when there is a serious illness to contend with.

 


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