The Larger the Rock, the Rockier the Marriage

  • By Quentin Fottrell, Marketwatch
  • December 26, 2014

wedding costs

Diamonds are forever, according to the song, but a marriage that starts with a lavish ceremony and expensive engagement ring is less likely to succeed.

The more you spend on an engagement ring and wedding ceremony, the shorter the marriage, according to a study released last month by Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, professors in the Department of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta. They examined the association between wedding spending and marriage duration using data from a survey of over 3,000 people in the U.S. who got married. They excluded respondents in same-sex marriages, those over 60 and people who completed their questionnaire in less than 2 minutes and provided inconsistent responses about age of partner.

Wedding industry revenues are expected to exceed $50 billion in the U.S. this year, according to research firm IBISWorld, which can be costly for the hosts and the guests. “The wedding industry has grown substantially throughout the 20th century in part due to the rise of consumerism and industry efforts to commodify love and romance,” the Emory report found. It cites bridal magazines, which play an important role in marketing “the necessity of a lavish wedding for a fairy tale marriage.” Spending more on an engagement ring — the average price being roughly around $2,500, according to the report — is also linked to shorter marriages.

Given the common — and often misleading — belief that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, Randal Olson, a fourth-year computer science graduate research assistant at Michigan State University, crunched the data in the Emory report to create some graphs. Couples who spend $20,000 on their wedding (excluding the cost of the ring) are 46% more likely than average to get divorced; that risk falls to 29% higher than average for those who spend $10,000 to $20,000. The good news: Couples who spend between $1,000 and $5,000 are 18% less likely than average to get divorced and those who spend less than $1,000 are 53% less likely to get divorced.

In their research paper, Olson notes, the Emory researchers say that the financial burden incurred by lavish, expensive weddings leads to financial stress for the couple, which ultimately tears the marriage apart. Brides, in particular, are vulnerable to divorce after expensive marriages. In fact, brides who spent $20,000 or more on their wedding are 3.5 times more likely to end up divorced than their counterparts who spent less than half that amount. “In other words, Bridezilla equals Divorcezilla,” he says. “Don’t let advertisers fool you into spending your life savings on your wedding.”

One theory: big weddings may be a sign that a couple is marrying for the wrong reasons. For instance, men are 1.5 times more likely to end up divorced when they care most about their partner’s looks, Olson notes, and women are 1.6 times more likely to end up divorced when they care most about their partner’s wealth. Having a lot of family and friends may help: Couples who have 200-plus guests at their wedding are 92% less likely than average to get divorced, while those with less than 10 guests are 35% more likely than average to get divorced. One solution: the researchers note that you’re 39% less likely to get divorced if you dated 3-plus years before getting married.

Big spenders may be more interested in the idea of having a big day out or simply spending beyond their means. The Emory researchers found that those who spent a lot on their wedding were more likely to report that debt resulting from wedding expenses caused stress in their marriage. People should ask, “Will the psychological lift I get from this offset the financial burden of paying for it?” says Joe Duran, chief executive officer of financial advisor United Capital in Newport Beach, Calif. “We all are romantics at heart, but if we don’t establish good habits at the beginning of a relationship, we probably won’t apply them later either, thereby ensuring no happily ever after.”

This article originally appeared on and is reprinted by permission from, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.

You Might Also Like:
Engagement Rings: To Wear or Not to Wear
Worst Money Mistakes You Can Make in a Marriage
Are You Committing Financial Infidelity?