Do lavish weddings make for happy marriages?

An American university has carried out research into the cost of weddings and the success of marriages (AP Photo)

Blogger Caroline Farrow has drawn my attention to a study done at Emory University in Atlanta, which suggests that modestly priced weddings lead to stronger marriages than lavish ones.

Three thousand adults, married at some point in their lives, were surveyed. The results indicated that men who had spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on their engagement rings were 1.3 times more likely to get divorced than men who spent between $500 and $2,000. Significantly though, men who spent $500 or less were also more likely to get divorced. Similarly, couples who had expensive weddings were more likely to experience money-stress related and had higher rates of divorce. Couples who spent $20,000 or more on their weddings were 3.5 times more likely to get divorced than those who spent between $5,000 and $10,000. The average wedding in the US today costs £30,000.

These results make intuitive sense. If you have a lavish wedding it indicates your priorities might not be on the solemnity of the occasion so much as on the externals and how to impress the guests. Several years ago my son, who was then working for a London law firm, told me that his boss was spending £60,000 on her wedding. I don’t know if she lived happily ever after and I sincerely hope so – but I remember one detail, which rather scandalised my frugal instincts, that the fireworks alone were going to cost a few thousand pounds.

Money and how you spend it can be a prime source of friction in a marriage. It is one of those subjects you need to work out beforehand in marriage preparation classes. If one half of a couple needs a lot of retail therapy and the other tends to get worked up over the slightest debt there is a potential minefield. Arguments about money are a major source of marital strife.

After the wedding the next expense, it seems, is the children. An article in the Telegraph suggests that the average cost of a child’s first 11 years of life is £84,000. How on earth is this sum arrived at? “Most of the cost – at £41,139 – is due to childcare before children reach school age”. The article adds that “it is the first year of a child’s life that is the most expensive, costing £8,500 on average.” At this point a small voice in my head says that if women stayed at home to bring up their children what a lot of money they would save. And if they were prepared to accept 2nd-hand items of equipment the first year need not be so expensive either.

Between the 1970s and the 1990s I raised eight children on my husband’s modest salary. Is that impossible now? We had one car, spent holidays in the UK, ate home-cooked meals and, up to the age of 11 at least, the children managed mainly on hand-me-downs and secondhand clothes. There were occasional extravagant moments, as when one of my sons talked me into buying him a late 19th century German violin worth £400, when I had been determined to buy him a mass-produced Chinese one for £75, and another occasion when, on the spur of the moment, I bought a very large shed for the garden along with a ping-pong table to go inside it, but these moments were rare. We lived within our income and what we couldn’t afford we didn’t buy.

The trick with children is to show them that you don’t need to spend lots of money to have a good time: the park, the public library, the local swimming pool, walks in nearby woodland and occasional trips to the cinema kept them all going until the teenage years – when they were encouraged to earn money for themselves. We didn’t have a TV and technology had not yet taken over our lives: no mobiles, smart phones or computers. Looking back, how simple (and affordable) life seemed then.


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