Wedding ring and ceremony expenditures predict shorter marriage duration

by on October 22, 2014 at 2:39 am in Data Source, Economics | Permalink

There is a new paper from Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon:

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.

What is the mechanism?  Are signal-requiring and financial commitment-requiring marriages more likely to be fragile?  Or, to put forward a politically incorrect interpretation, do the high expenditures indicate the wife has too much bargaining power in the relationship?  That hardly seems like a plausible explanation.  By the way, weddings with a large number of attendees are likely to last longer, as are weddings accompanied by honeymoons.  Those correlations are easier to understand.

This piece is by a factor of more than five the most frequently downloaded SSRN paper over the last two months.

1 Memnon October 22, 2014 at 3:06 am

Even at the median, wedding outlays are very high compared to earnings. Hence higher spending, for similar income couples, will be associated with less prudent behavior, more (unwarranted) optimism, worse judgement.

2 Thomas Sewell October 22, 2014 at 1:05 pm

If you think the down payment is expensive, you should try the upkeep…

3 BDK October 22, 2014 at 1:56 pm

“If it flies, floats or fornicates, always rent it.” [the point can be expressed with a bit more verve of course.]

4 Dan Lavatan October 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm

It’s too hard to rent aircraft internationally or do cool stuff like sailing at night or with pets. it’s not like you can take the money with you when you die.

5 JWatts October 22, 2014 at 9:33 pm

“It’s too hard to rent aircraft internationally…”

Purchasing a seat on any airline is the equivalent of renting for the overwhelming majority of people.

6 honkie please October 22, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Correct! I’m a U.S. pilot, and found renting a plane from the hand-wringing Australians far more trouble and $ than I’d anticipated.

7 The Devil's Dictionary October 22, 2014 at 3:15 am

“Or, to put forward a politically incorrect interpretation, do the high expenditures indicate the wife has too much bargaining power in the relationship?”


8 Mike in Beijing October 22, 2014 at 5:24 am


9 Mike in Beijing October 22, 2014 at 5:34 am

After careful consideration, I posit that high expenditures do not only indicate the wife’s relative bargaining power, but perhaps also predict a sharp future depreciation of said bargaining power.

10 The Devil's Dictionary October 22, 2014 at 6:54 am

Perhaps a myopic, short-term thinking in general.

11 AngryAnalyst October 22, 2014 at 8:57 am

I’m a young man and an active participant in the dating market. For whatever it’s worth, this theory is broadly consistent with my experience.

I’ve been in a few relationships that were serious enough to have serious discussions of marriage. There is a strong relationship between traits that, with the benefit of hindsight, seem neurotic or controlling and wanting large weddings in my clearly biased sample of young women. Not sure if that means anything.

12 Art Deco October 22, 2014 at 9:14 am

A young man of my acquaintance offered this bit of wisdom (which had never occurred to me as it was never an issue when I was that age): “whenever you see a really hot girl, just remember there’s a man in her life and he’s tired of her s**t.” Some of our shirttails are now into their thirties and I notice that the men who did well for themselves were the men who did not aspire to attractive women.

13 T. Shaw October 22, 2014 at 12:25 pm

AA: Outstanding: “neurotic” or “controlling.” You are wise beyond your years.

To wit.

Excerpt from Kipling, “The Betrothed”:
“A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And, a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

Poem is about a “breach of promise” lawsuit brought by an ex-fiancee who had wanted her fiance to give up cigars. Many women are suffiiciently sly as to masquerade until after the chains are affixed.

14 pondering October 23, 2014 at 6:54 am

I am the mother of a bride-to-be. I am the one who wants more guests at the wedding, and the young couple want to invite fewer, and have everything more fancy. I hope I’m not being neurotic and controlling, myself. And they seem to me to be planning a relatively expensive wedding, so I surely hope they buck the trend.

15 Jon October 23, 2014 at 2:19 am

…Or just an attempt at being obnoxious to get reader’s attention. Not only does it “hardly seems like a plausible explanation”; it is hard to see any other reason for even writing it except to say “look how brave I am by proposing this thesis that will offend people”

16 pondering October 23, 2014 at 7:24 am

“Too much,” of anything, by definition, is too much, But there is nothing inherently destructive about the wife having power in the relationship dynamics.

17 GC October 22, 2014 at 3:25 am

Actually, the explanation they put forward, which is that high expenses for tings and wedding become soon after a large amount of debt related stress for the couple leading to break up, seems pretty convincing to me.

18 GC October 22, 2014 at 3:26 am

rings and wedding ceremony and associated outlays, that is.

19 Axa October 22, 2014 at 7:06 am

This. I didn’t had a great wedding party wife, but due to a small credit for party extras and a big down payment for new home, 2 years after the party I lived with strict austerity with my wife. The solace for this self imposed austerity were memories from the wedding day and our new home. No restaurants, no new clothing, travel only for work, avoiding invitations from friends to expensive events, each one had a car but we sold one…..a long list. This is a huge change from bachelor life. Your friends keep buying new cars, my wife’s friends keep on fashion shopping regularly. Since this was our plan, we survived this sometimes stressful period. I’m not sure if other people can endure this, specially after the wedding spending frenzy and new expectations are set.

20 China Cat October 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm

That is interesting. Put in my mind a stages-of-union-development-theory by making me wonder if your austerity was a formative process in attitude for your marriage and if it paid dividends in later years in the form of reasonable or even pessimistic expectations often being exceeded and the resulting easy satisfaction.

21 GC October 23, 2014 at 4:57 am


22 Axa October 23, 2014 at 8:49 am

No idea. I just get married 3 years ago. Tell you in a few years.

23 Asher October 22, 2014 at 3:53 am

It looks like there is a selection problem. People who spent a lot of money on weddings in the past separate into two groups: those who still have lots of money and those who don’t. Among the first group few are motivated to fill out a survey like this in return for a pittance. Among those who spent a lot of money on their weddings, the ones whose marriages fell apart are disproportionately impecunious. Marriage dissolution itself involves many expenses (two can sleep as cheap as one + lawyers), in addition you are capturing the folks whose marriages dissolved due to money woes.

So the survey methodology disproportionately captures those high spenders whose marriages fell apart,

24 Daniel October 22, 2014 at 3:57 am

do the high expenditures indicate the wife has too much bargaining power in the relationship? That hardly seems like a plausible explanation

Score one for cognitive dissonance.

25 zbicyclist October 22, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Or, does it indicate that the couple is more interested in the wedding and the trappings than they are in the marriage? The wedding is a day; even a short marriage is much longer.

And perhaps it’s not so much the debt, as the inattention to the importance of budgeting.

26 Kerokan October 22, 2014 at 4:28 am

Two things about research design make me doubt this finding. First, they do not control for whether the man or the woman have been previously divorced. My impression is that divorced people are more cautious when they re-marry and they spend less on the wedding, the ring etc. So, omitted variable bias.

Second, they exclude widows from the sample. Suppose that big weddings in fact last longer, in fact they last until death separates the couple. Then excluding widows from the sample means you only include people whose marriages fell apart and not the people whose marriages lasted forever.

27 Ignacio October 22, 2014 at 8:44 am

Actually, I remember reading about sstudies that show that people who have previously divorced are more likely to end up divorcing in subsequent marriages. So maybe your experience regarding divorcees is not as common as you think. But since I agree with you that they probably have smaller second (and third weddings), this may go against the correlation mentioned in the post.

28 Lord Action October 22, 2014 at 9:53 am

You’re right about prior divorce being a huge predictor of divorce. But it’s still omitted variable bias. Second and third marriages occur later in life, and a discreet event for 45 year-olds might be expensive compared to a big party for 25 year-olds. So I wouldn’t say it’s obvious which direction this points.

29 Bill October 22, 2014 at 9:15 am

+1 Good work.

30 ohwilleke October 22, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Agreed that omitting the previously divorced factor is critical. But, you get the behavior of divorced people wrong. The classic big $$ wedding with a big ring involved the previously divorced man marrying a trophy wife (my wife sees these women in jewelry stores at our local high end mall all the time).

Mostly, this is a result of economic capacity. Men are appreciating commodities. Men who marry just out of school or early in their careers don’t have much money and anticipating needing money for raising children in the near future. Men who marry later in life are at their peak earning years and often are no longer raising children. They pay for their own weddings and buy expensive engagement rings, but don’t have huge wedding attendance either because they do a “destination wedding” or simply can’t gather much family support for a second wedding. (The father of the bride pays for a first wedding, but not a second one).

A second marriage to a trophy wife for a couple who may very well not have children isn’t as likely to last.

Moreover, there is another category of weddings that is somewhat similar to second marriages. This involves people who have stayed single until their first wedding until their 30s or later. Again, the couple typically pays for their own wedding and the husband can afford a big rock. But, these couples are well past the “maturity” gap faced by younger couples to the point where they are so set in their ways that adapting to married life is hard, and certain knowledge that each spouse is economically independent means that there is little to bind them economically. These marriages are also fragile.

31 ohwilleke October 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

The notion of excluding widows from the sample is that with rare exceptions, widows are elderly when the remarry. Geriatric remarriages are not really a comparable phenomena – they are entered into for different reasons, economic pooling is often much less complete, sex is typically a much smaller factor and children are typically out of the question, and the expected duration of the commitment is often fairly brief since life expectancy is modest. Also, geriatric marriage patterns are skewed by extremely large numbers of unmarried women to unmarried men in that age bracket.

It would have been sensible to include young widows in the sample, but the number of young widows is so small it probably wouldn’t have been statistically significant anyway.

32 prior_approval October 22, 2014 at 5:17 am

‘Or, to put forward a politically incorrect interpretation, do the high expenditures indicate the wife has too much bargaining power in the relationship?’

How is this politically incorrect? At least when consulting no less an authority than convicted felon Martha Stewart –

‘Traditional Roles for the Bride and Her Family

Traditionally, the bride and her family are responsible for all planning expenses, the bride’s attire, all floral arrangements, transportation on the wedding day, photo and video fees, travel and lodgings for the officiant if he comes from out of town, lodging for the bridesmaids (if you have offered to help with this expense), and all the expenses of the reception. The bride personally pays for the flowers and gifts for her attendants, the groom’s ring, and a present for him.

The Wedding Reception

Of all their duties, the bride’s parents’ role as host and hostess of the reception is foremost. This honor is theirs because traditionally they pay for part, if not all, of the festivities. As such, their names have historically gone at the top of the invitations, and they play a special role at the reception of making guests feel welcome and ensuring that everything runs smoothly.’

33 Cliff October 22, 2014 at 9:14 am


34 chuck martel October 22, 2014 at 9:54 am

I bought whiskey for my daughter’s reception and that was it.

35 Bufflars October 22, 2014 at 11:44 am

Yeah, I think this is actually a pretty good point. Traditionally, at least in the US, it has been the wife’s family that contributes heavily to the wedding preparation and costs. It seems a bit odd to view this as an issue of the woman’s bargaining position when she or her family is paying for it… Whether or not this tradition is as much in practice nowadays is certainly a reasonable question. But really, the only item that will be nearly always be purchased by the man only is the ring, and that is often quite a bit cheaper than the wedding as a whole.

36 Spencer October 22, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I have three married children.

In every case the brides family paid for the wedding and reception. The grooms family only paid for the rehearsal dinner.

37 zbicyclist October 22, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Even if it is the bride’s parents who pay, you worry about signalling here.

If Mom and Dad pay for lots and lots of stuff, it’s likely that the post-wedding reality will disappoint. If you had expensive champagne at your wedding but now are hard pressed to afford Gallo, you may feel like you’ve traded down.

Personally, I gave my daughters a lump sum, out of which they could pay their wedding expenses. If they spent less, they could keep it. If they spent more, they could pay for it. I recommend this approach — saves a lot of arguments and encourages the couple to have budgeting discussions on at least the wedding event before the real budget discussions start after.

38 Sbard October 23, 2014 at 11:25 am

My hypothetical future children will be told that they can get just as married at the county courthouse.

39 Urso October 22, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Maybe the relevant question isn’t the bargaining power between the wife and the husband, but between the wife and her dad (ie, is she spoiled?)

40 weareastrangemonkey October 22, 2014 at 5:38 am


Some people want to get married for the sake of the marriage and its ceremonial accoutrements. Such people will be both a) more inclined to rush into marriage with someone who is a bad match and b) to have expensive ceremonies and rings.

41 NKM October 22, 2014 at 5:54 am

I expect this type of drivel from sociologists, but economists? Endogeneity problem, I think yes.

42 well October 22, 2014 at 5:55 am

people who don’t spend much on a marriage tend to have stronger relationships and don’t need the glitzy fancy wedding.
just beingwith the person they love is enough

43 Marian Kechlibar October 22, 2014 at 6:12 am

Or they just hate the idea of paying for the divorce attorneys.

44 Bruno October 22, 2014 at 7:02 am

Just read the paper, I´d be very wary to interpret anything out of those results..

45 Urso October 22, 2014 at 5:12 pm

But it fits my mood affiliation so nicely! I just WANT to believe, dammit.

46 titanic October 22, 2014 at 7:34 am

Spending a lot of money on a ring/wedding is correlated with being a beta chump who’s ass the wife will divorce as soon as she stops getting the tingles. (if she ever got them at all)

47 Stillman October 22, 2014 at 11:34 am

PUA lingo – spelling =

48 honkie please October 23, 2014 at 1:52 am

a sinking ship, it would seem.

49 charlie October 22, 2014 at 7:39 am

How do you have a large wedding — lots of attendees — and not spend money?

Only way I know how to do that is either a cash bar or no alcohol (ie. baptist).

How do you get people to answer the question on how much they spent honestly?

Could it be that people who stay married lie about the amount spent, and divorced people increase the amount?

50 buddyglass October 22, 2014 at 8:22 am

Could they have adjusted for “# of attendees” when measuring cost of the ceremony?

51 eccdogg October 22, 2014 at 9:47 am

Pretty easy. Most of the weddings that I went to as a kid in NC were exactly that. You don’t spend much on the reception and you invite everyone that you know to the church service. Reception was no booze in church hall with finger food and cake. Food often provided by family covered dish style.

This wasn’t a bible thumper church either. Just mainline protestant.

52 charlie October 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

Yes, I just attended one. Cost for food was $8 a person. There was a cash bar. Total outlay unknown but pretty cheap.

But I’d suggest that the religious/ethnic affiliations of such wedding are probably more critical than the dollar spend.

And yes, if you don’t have alcohol, you are basically a bible thumper. Or at least since 1933.

53 Lord Action October 22, 2014 at 10:43 am

I’ve been to weddings without alcohol, and they weren’t bible thumpers. What they were was poor.

54 CD October 22, 2014 at 11:10 am

This. It was years before I went to a catered wedding, and I can remember helping make food for relatives’ and friends’ weddings. Liquor might be a few bottles of champagne for toasting.

55 John Mansfield October 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

That describes most weddings I’ve been around, too, including my own. Being part of a community that does such things for one another is helpful to marriage, and keeps costs down.

56 Jeff R October 22, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Buffet style reception serving only spaghetti and boxed wine.

57 Jazi Zilber October 22, 2014 at 7:58 am

expensive ring implies low belief in the relationship, I would say.

Note also that ring – unlike a house or cash – is a love signal probably much more than pure payment for the relationship.

Now, the very need to signal love implies a weaker bond. Whereas, – one other example is said paper – length of relationship – predicts less divorce. If you know your partner long enough, you have a lasting relationship. If you need a huge diamond, I bet you are fragile to begin with.

58 Steve October 22, 2014 at 8:01 am

No ring and married in City Hall. Phew!

59 Axa October 22, 2014 at 8:03 am

First: a wedding party is celebration of life. If you don’t enjoy life or celebrations, what’s the point of working and saving?. Second: you can see a wedding party as fool expense or as an investment.

An expense if you only look at the final price. An investment if you take into account the career advance for me and my wife. Nothing has changed, but people think we are more serious or responsible now. This is a nice feature from the signaling wedding party. If you care about the signalling to your community before the wedding, you can minimize the party costs and still enjoy the new placement in your community. The wedding ring is not expensive, even if it is 4K USD. There are ridiculous things like flowers, music, the venue rent or drinks that can go much much higher than the ring. At least she keeps the ring, who keeps the venue decoration?

It was a good effort to study this issue, but more that total expenses I’d look into the attitude while spending. It’s easier to measure total expenses instead of attitudes. Also, why Amazon mechanical turk? I don’t picture a diverse set of people doing that. Perhaps a survey made in several shopping malls along a $5 coupon for anything would be better. I have no experience on this but I would have not answered the survey for 0.75 cents. I’m curious of why people with a household income higher than 100K, or spent more than 8K in a ring is active in Amazon MT.

My limited experience is along Tyler’s hypothesis. Before the wedding, I talked to my wife and she said I want a nice ring, I got a fancy everyday suit, f*ck the flowers or the drinks, I filtered a lot her guest list to make it smaller. We are happy together. I remember my elder brother’s wedding with 100+ people. His ex-wife just arrived to the wedding caterers shops just asking for the most expensive service: venue decoration, music, food. She just the demanded the service any other bride in town couldn’t afford, taste was forgotten and instead just looked for the most expensive things. They were 11 months together. That relatively high bargaining power went quickly to the ground.

60 Sam October 22, 2014 at 8:22 am

I imagine that a lot of academics who use Mechanical Turk for research might also complete MT tasks, either for fun or to feel like they’re “giving back” to the community.

61 charlie October 22, 2014 at 8:53 am

Academics spend more than 8K on a ring?

62 Hadur October 22, 2014 at 1:51 pm

There is a bizarre assumption in here about the size and scale of a wedding being the thing that signals to the community that you should receive the status increase that comes to a married person.

The vast majority of the people whose judgment of you will improve upon learning that you are married are not going to be at your wedding. They are going to be people you meet years or decades from now, future bosses at jobs you currently have no idea you’ll apply for. The wedding ring is what signals to them that you are married, not some party a decade ago that they most likely were not invited to.

63 China Cat October 22, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Not only a celebration of life, but often a rare opportunity for extended families to get together.

64 Dan Lavatan October 22, 2014 at 4:41 pm

I could see doing it for legal reasons. It counts as self-employment income that could be used to justify an ERISA plan meeting the ACA mandate for instance. Some people like surveys.

65 Turkey Vulture October 22, 2014 at 8:19 am

The finding seems plausible but the research design seems terrible. All the press this is getting assures there will be more terrible future research designs.

66 buddyglass October 22, 2014 at 8:21 am

Two ideas, off the top of my head:

1. Couples who are willing to blow a lot of money on the ring and wedding are superficial and disproportionately interested in “appearances”. These traits have a causal effect on divorce.

2. Couples who are willing to blow a lot of money on the ring and wedding are likely to be less financially responsible than couples who don’t. Financial irresponsibility leads to financial stress which has a causal effect on divorce.

67 chuck martel October 22, 2014 at 10:02 am

Spending a lot of money on the photographs and even videos of the wedding is what’s really strange. Have you ever been invited over to someone’s house to look at their wedding pictures? Me neither. Do they devote an evening a month to looking at them together? Probably not. Maybe an 8×10 of a smiling groom and a beautiful bride hanging in the bedroom but hundreds of pictures? Even digital ones? Crazy.

68 RR October 22, 2014 at 10:21 am

For the children to come later , the pictures could mean a lot. Also for any family members that couldn’t attend. But otherwise you are probably quite correct.

69 Lord Action October 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

Ever see children looking at wedding pictures? Ever see your parent’s wedding pictures? Your grandparents?

Chuck might be right that one portrait for the wall is all you really need. It would sure make being in a wedding party less of a pain.

70 Stephen October 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Wedding videos are shared all the time on Facebook now, FWIW.

71 Urso October 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Ever see your parent’s wedding pictures? Your grandparents? Yes, yes. Of course my grandparents got married before the advent of digital photography (if you can believe such a thing!). Pictures were rare. The wedding pictures are basically the only pictures I have of them before they had kids, so they’re valuable to me. My kids will have more pictures of me than they’d ever care to look at in a million years.

72 chuck martel October 22, 2014 at 2:05 pm

The point isn’t the pictures themselves, it’s the expense of hiring a photographer. Any boob can take decent pictures with a digital camera, and so many of them, that some are going to be presentable. Let cousin Jimmy or uncle Ted take some pictures and use the money saved for cosmetic surgery.

73 T. Shaw October 22, 2014 at 8:26 am

High-cost or no-cost, marriage is more about behavioral economics. It is illogical. The statistics: 50% of marriages end in divorce and a recent survey revealed that among those remaining marriages are 70% not happy.

The odds are against it. Why do it?

Likely, higher income/net worth people see that they have options that poorer people don’t so poorer stay togther out of necessaity?

Also, post-modern people are more narcissistic than earlier generations . . . Formerly, life was harsher and people didn’t expect to be happy . . .

My reaction when I (36+ years) hear of wedding plans: “He might as well be miserable likel they rest of us.” My brother (40+ years) puts of a tearful, quivering voice and says, “Why should he be happy?”

74 Cliff October 22, 2014 at 9:18 am

50% of marriages do not end in divorce. I think it is about 30%. Any marriage generally makes men happier, although 2/3 of divorces are initiated by women.

75 Lord Action October 22, 2014 at 9:44 am

Also, your demographics and marriage history are great predictors of divorce. 25-40 year-old white college-grad never-been-marrieds with parents who are still married? Divorce is very unlikely.

76 T. Shaw October 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm

That was confusing. The numbers I cited are years married. I wish I was in my 30’s. 36 years: a testament to human endurance; and three of the best weeks of my life.

Some women aren’t happy unless they’re miserable.

77 msgkings October 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Why are you still married, T. Shaw? Not snarking, honest question, you post often about your unhappy marriage. Your kids are grown…why are you still in it? Are you a man who isn’t happy unless he’s miserable?

78 msgkings October 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

@ Cliff: yep.

In self reported happiness surveys, the ranking is always: married men happiest, single women next, single men next, then married women last.

79 Max October 22, 2014 at 8:29 am

Marriage is for suckers.

80 Tarrou October 22, 2014 at 9:22 am

Only male suckers. For women, it is an unalloyed, platinum plated gold mine. Getting that ring means never having to work again (unless you want to), and complete freedom to sponge off the groom for the rest of his life whether they stay married or not.

If I had a friend getting married, I’d buy him a ticket to a non-extradition country.

81 mr mcknuckles October 22, 2014 at 9:47 am

Why then do studies show that men in marriage are happier than single men? Yet same studies show that marriage makes women unhappy.

82 Tarrou October 22, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Sunk costs fallacy.

83 msgkings October 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Or ‘not everyone is a douchebag’ fallacy.

84 MattW October 26, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Thats why its a bad deal for men. Both go into it thinking its great, and then women change their mind, become unhappy, and break out the divorce papers. Makes men even more miserable afterwards.

85 ummm October 22, 2014 at 8:32 am

lol @ SSRN there is no peer review there. You can upload anything . also gaming the download count is not uncommon

86 Mark Thorson October 22, 2014 at 5:54 pm

I was just thinking about how the downloads metric might affect content. Will the new record be broken by “Quantitative model of juvenile feline cuteness”?

87 Corey October 22, 2014 at 8:42 am

I think if you consider what people are really buying (and what they’re paying) you get a good picture of why this happens.

1) Men who spend more on diamonds — shorter marriage. The man cannot get a “yes” to his proposal without a large outlay. He’s signalling that he’ll spend a lot of money on the woman to get her to do what he wants. The woman is less likely to intrinsically prefer this man over others based on important non-financial criteria. In the long run the marriage fails.
2) Women whose FAMILIES spend more on weddings — shorter marriage. For the woman, choosing the right man is less important than getting SOME man to propose, so she can get access to the big wedding. She’s “paying” for the wedding by getting married, not actually paying for the wedding. Once married, there’s much less incentive to STAY married.
3) Large weddings — longer marriage. Stronger social support network comes to mind. But also, the cost of divorce is higher, because more people were present for the wedding and would be affected by the divorce. I suspect this is why marriages, historically, lasted a lot longer. When the entire village — everyone you know in the whole world — is present when you marry, the costof divorce is just too high to bear. If it’s you and your three best friends on an island in the Caribbean, well, they’ll still be your best friends when you’re calling the groom names after the divorce.

My $0.02.

88 Bill October 22, 2014 at 9:25 am


This paper will be used, I predict, by all guys who give their fiancé a small, or no, stone and a less expensive wedding. But, it will be understood only by the analytically inclined intended.

Given the economic analysis of this subject, I am opening, with Fama, a Marriage Futures Market, in which one can take positions on marriage continuance. Options, puts…its all there.

We are also proposing a marriage tax exempt 529 plan. The way it works is that the guy puts the money he would have spent on the wedding in a tax free 529 plan. If he divorces before a certain period, he has to forfeit the money in the plan, but if he remains married, they both get to keep the money.

It is called the Marginal Marriage plan.

89 Anon October 22, 2014 at 10:26 am

Why not a Famaly building plan?

90 Dan Lavatan October 22, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Why do people think diamond futures won’t go up? Rings are a capital expenditure and I’m not sure you can put that in the same category as a wedding.

91 Justin October 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Excellent analysis.

92 Ryan October 22, 2014 at 8:49 am

Despite the flaws in the research methodology, being one of the main financiers of an upcoming wedding, I shared this paper with my _fiancé_! =)

93 Tarrou October 22, 2014 at 9:02 am

I have a pretty simple explanation for the dichotomy of cheap/large attendance weddings being more stable. Community and diffuse costs.

In tight-knit communities, the costs of a wedding are easily defrayed among more people, and already existing resources exploited. Weddings in my family (my parents live in Amish country) usually involve a friends property or local church (no rental), most equipment (tents, coolers etc.) is borrowed, the meal is often potluck style and obviously, no alcohol. This sort of event is very cheap, very heavily attended, and signals the sort of community that supports marriages and enforces norms against divorce.

I think my sister’s wedding cost less than a grand, and there were three hundred people in attendance. I couldn’t say what her ring cost, but she wore our grandmother’s dress, so no direct cost there (she spent several months modifying it herself, so time, but no cash). People less integrated into their communities have fewer resources to draw on, and so must pay more money for similar goods and services.

94 Art Deco October 22, 2014 at 9:08 am

I think Erma Bombeck once offered (I’m paraphrasing) that the the chances of the hangovers lasting longer than the marriage are directly proportional to the size of the wedding party. The last elaborate wedding I attended (planned by a woman her soon-to-be mother-in-law amiably called ‘bridezilla’) celebrated the advent of a marriage which blew up after 28 months (a third shorter, in duration, than the ‘relationship’ which had proceeded it). The excuse offered by the bride’s family-of-origin (a divorced couple, natch) as to why their daughter had abruptly left her husband and run off with a new boyfriend was that she was ‘bipolar’.

Rent the film The Best Years of Our Lives. It was made in 1946 and set that year, portraying the problems veterans were facing re-inserting themselves in normal life. There’s a wedding at the end. It takes place in a private home and the number of guests hardly breaks into the two-digits. That was what that generation expected a wedding to be at that time. They generally did pretty well for themselves in the succeeding decades.

95 China Cat October 22, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I wonder if the time of year play into duration for the same set of indicators.
January weddings may last longer than June weddings because less fairy tale?

96 AndrewL October 22, 2014 at 9:11 am

This is great! I spent next to nothing on the engagement and wedding. I’m going to be married to my wife forever! …. *gulp*

97 Turkey Vulture October 22, 2014 at 9:41 am

I spent a bit under $600 on a ring a decade ago. I think the wedding came to $2 or $3k, with a large number of attendees (no alcohol). We netted a small profit. Still married and alive after nearly a decade.

98 Edward Nevraumont October 22, 2014 at 10:03 am

The problem of only looking at variables one at a time is ignoring the insights that come from interactive effects.

In this case large weddings have a VERY positive effect on marriage length and more than overpower the cost effect. If you had to choose which would last longer:

Elopement with <10 guests costing $40k

The second marriage is more likely to do well.

To solve for the interaction effects the authors should have used the variable “spend per guest”. That is the true driver of decreased marriage length rather than total bill.

(That still begs the question of why spend per guest correlates with shorter marriages. The financial strain is a good hypothesis. It should be easy to test by looking at wedding spend as a % of income. If financial squeeze were the issue then you should see that as a better predictor – especially given that income itself is used as a predictor of longer marriages I believe in this model)

99 Ricardo October 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

I’ve very much enjoyed reading the “just so” stories here.

Not to give away too much, but here’s what happens next:

1. A grad student somewhere, trying to replicate the results, will find an Excel error.
2. The authors will rewrite the paper, reversing their previous conclusion.
3. Commenters will create equally plausible “just so” stories to explain the new conclusion.

100 RR October 22, 2014 at 10:33 am

. The stories were very interesting, but all I learned from the comments is that most commenters in MR had simpler weddings and most continue to be married. How about a paper that commenting on MR can help improve marriage durability?

101 Justin October 22, 2014 at 12:30 pm

A Just So Story is another name for hypothesis. It does not mean “slur for theories I do not like”.

Confirmation is always messy and less than 100%, except in classical physics.

102 Ricardo October 22, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I agree with everything you said. I would distinguish between testable hypotheses and untestable hypotheses; “just so” stories are the latter.

“Just so” stories are mainly useless. They attempt to explain why we see a certain phenomenon, but provide no testable hypotheses regarding *other* phenomena.

103 Bob Z October 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

I have an alternate hypothesis.

Since the bride’s family usually pays for the wedding, perhaps a lavish wedding is less of an indicator of financially irresponsible bride and groom, and/or of a bride having too much influence over her husband, but is instead an indicator of the bride having an excessive influence over her father? Having to move from that power dynamic to one where the bride must treat her husband as an equal may put a lot of strain on the relationship.

The decision about the number of guests, on the other hand, is usually a joint negotiation between all parties, and may merely reflect the presence (or absence) of an extended support system.

104 Pshrnk October 22, 2014 at 11:43 am


105 FC October 22, 2014 at 4:21 pm

The only flaw in your argument was forgetting to drop the mic.

106 Anon October 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

………”an indicator of the bride having an excessive influence over her father..”.

And an indication of signalling from the Bride’s family.

107 The Other Jim October 22, 2014 at 11:30 am

First off, there is a selection bias here. If this paper had come to a different conclusion, it would never have been published, and we wouldn’t be talking about it.

That being said, people who spend a fortune on their weddings are idiots. You’ll find a high correlation between idiocy and the tendency to make poor life decisions, including mate selection.

108 zbicyclist October 22, 2014 at 7:13 pm

The paper hasn’t been published and hasn’t undergone peer review. You can basically put up any working paper on SSRN.

109 ohwilleke October 22, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Looks like a second marriage effect.

110 John B October 22, 2014 at 12:51 pm

The paper was obviously written by imbeciles. Had they succeeded in finding that more expensive rings and weddings correlated with more enduring marriages, the jewelry and events industries would have paid them a fortune. They need to take another look at their data.

111 An Onyx Mousse October 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Another omitted variable is religiosity. Religiously motivated couples (who regularly attend services) tend to have less lavish weddings but longer marriages. This is due to to the different cultural weight put on the 1-day wedding vs. the long term prospects of the marriage, social support networks, etc. Also confounded with education levels: non-wealthy folks with more education often spend less money on their wedding on average- think Bohemian / hipster weddings with lots of “hand-made” touches that don’t cost much. I have been to a lot of these.

Money is how less-educated people show respectability. Middle class and upper middle-class folks with good social networks aren’t afraid to go “shabby-chic”.

112 Urso October 22, 2014 at 5:24 pm

This should be easy enough to test, just run the numbers with two simple questions: did you go through a church pre-marriage counseling slog? and if so, did you do it of your own volition? Do the couples who answer “yes,” “yes” (both H&W) have longer or more successful marriages?

113 Hasbro October 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm

How about: couples who overspend on this are likely to also overspend on that, making them a bad financial partnership.

114 Jon October 22, 2014 at 5:15 pm

TC’s interpretation is not politically incorrect. “Politically incorrect” should be reserved for theories that are likely very reasonable, but are shunned because some find them offensive. Merely being offensive, cynical, or bigoted does earn the badge of political correctness.

The engagement ring is purchased usually by the man and the bride’s family usually pays for the reception.

A much more plausible set of explanations are likely these. People who make large expenditures on a wedding ring or have families that value making large spending on ceremonies either place less values on their relationships. They also make poorer judgments and may engage in more risky behavior. These may extend to the process of choosing a spouse and also cause conflict in the marriage.

115 Jon October 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Typo: One sentence should read “Merely being offensive, cynical, or bigoted does *not* earn the badge of political correctness.

Also–the authors seem to be cherry picking coefficients. I can’t see why the results for men and woman would differ, except that in some categories more of one sex may not know or mis-report an answer (e.g. more woman report not knowing engagement ring expenses) . For every man that got divorced, a woman did also.

This leads to yet another highly probably explanation—the study is just biased.

116 Ross Emmett October 22, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Most of the focus in the comments has been on marriage(s) and related issue. I’ll offer a different explanation.

Perhaps in the era of cohabitation, the extravagant marriage has simply become another of the precipitous events that increase the probability of divorce. For example, there is a higher rate of divorce after the death of a child, or after one of the partners retires, or the birth of a child with significant problems, or a long illness, etc. Also an increase after other events which may cause the couple to take on significant debt. Perhaps now the marriage ceremony has become another event in the life of a couple that has the potential to become the tipping point for a divorce.

Just a thought.

117 Urso October 22, 2014 at 8:35 pm

That only makes sense if the break-up rates of people who cohabit, then get married with an expensive ceremony, are higher than the base rate of those who cohabit. I do not expect that is true.

118 Alvin October 23, 2014 at 12:22 am

Does that mean the inverse correlation doesn’t necessarily apply if only one of the two conditions exist: expensive ring but not expensive wedding, or inexpense ring but expensive wedding. Abstract, as usual, not clear.

119 Mal October 23, 2014 at 2:26 am

Slight paradox: the more guests at the wedding, the longer the marriage lasts; but more guests means the wedding costs more – and the higher the cost of the wedding, the shorter the marriage lasts.

Is there some optimal number of guests?

120 pondering October 23, 2014 at 7:12 am

perhaps there is an optimal number of $ spent per guest.

121 Art Deco October 23, 2014 at 10:49 am

The optimal number is the cost of dinner here:

122 Matt Moore October 23, 2014 at 11:32 am

Rich people can more easily afford to get divorced, both in terms of legal proceedings and in terms of loss of economies of scale from occupying a single household instead of two.

123 Josh October 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Getting divorced is expensive.

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