Can’t Buy Me Love—Do extravagant wedding expenses lead to divorce?

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People get married with the best intentions—believing in the strength of their bond and the durability of their relationship. They enter into marriage with hope, love, and excitement. They want and expect it to last forever.

Naturally, the wedding industry wants couples to believe that a wedding, and everything that surrounds it, symbolizes their love—therefore, the bigger and more lavish, the better, right?

And in today’s super-saturated, image-inundated social media environment, there’s an infinite supply of glowing couples having “Insta-perfect” engagements, showers, weddings, and honeymoons.

No wonder couples feel pressure to keep up—to do it all, have it all, go-for-broke, and show it off: an eye-popping diamond, professional wedding planner, designer dress, destination wedding, extravagant reception.

Today, the average American wedding costs $33,000 and more than $36,000 in California. The U.S. wedding industry is estimated at $72 billion in 2024. A recent report by Allied Market Research found that the global market for wedding services generated $160.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach a whopping $414.2 billion by 2030.

But does all this make happier couples, healthier partnerships, and longer-lasting marriages?

Back in 2014, a team of economics professors from Emory University, Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon, conducted a fascinating study, “A Diamond Is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration,” published in the Journal of Economic Inquiry. Although their findings have been controversial, the study is still frequently quoted and a subject of ongoing debate among researchers.

The Emory study surveyed 3151 adults in the U.S. who are or have been married. According to the authors, “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.”

As CNN explained, the study found that “couples who spend less on their wedding tend to have longer-lasting marriages than those who splurge…[and] found a similar correlation between less-expensive engagement rings and lower divorce rates.”

A few key findings from the data:

  • Among men surveyed, those who spent between $2000 and $4000 on an engagement ring were 1.3 times more likely to divorce than those who spent only $500 to $2000.
  • Among women surveyed, wedding costs topping $20,000 were associated with 3.5 times the risk of divorce compared to women who reported spending only $5000-10,000.
  • In the samples of women, men, and all people, spending $1,000 or less on the wedding was “significantly associated with a decrease in the hazard of divorce.”

The study did not examine reasons WHY these correlations may exist. “Perhaps those couples who tend to have lavish weddings are simply those couples who tend not to be the best match for each other,” Mialon said. However, the research team proposed some compelling possibilities:

Elaborate wedding spending may cause a financial burden. Economic stress is a known contributor to marital discord. Couples who feel pressure to overspend on a big ring or ceremony they can’t afford may begin their marriage on a shaky financial footing that causes strife. For example, in the sample of women, those who reported $2,000 to $4,000 spent on the engagement ring were 2 to 3 times more likely to report being stressed about wedding-related debt than those spending between $500 and $2,000.

As Nicole Spector pointed out in an article about the study for, “It’s not about the price tag; it’s about what you can afford.”

Lavish weddings may set up unrealistic expectations. Couples may feel disappointment when the realities of marriage don’t live up to the fairytale wedding and dream diamond ring.

An extravagant wedding may distract from what’s important. Scrambling to live up to societal pressures to have a fancy wedding may distract from building a healthy partnership and strong foundation for the marriage, leading to a higher risk of divorce.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that correlation does not prove causation—having your dream wedding or engagement ring doesn’t mean your union is doomed. Many factors go into making a happy, long-lasting marriage: trust, communication, commitment, compatibility, and the loving support of family and friends.

“The evidence suggests that the types of weddings associated with lower likelihood of divorce are those that are relatively inexpensive but are high in attendance,” the study found.

“Overall,” Francis told CNN, “our findings provide little evidence to support the validity of the wedding industry’s general message that connects expensive weddings with positive marital outcomes.”

If you’ve made the difficult decision to end your marriage, the caring and experienced family attorneys at SFLG can help you navigate your dissolution and reach the most favorable possible outcome.

By Debra Schoenberg

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