- - Friday, December 1, 2017


The last wedding in our immediate family was well over 25 years ago and, needless to say, it is mind boggling to see the changes as we prepare for a grandson’s wedding this summer. We have read, of course, about how expensive weddings have become but it’s another matter to face the reality. According to the 10th annual The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Study, the average wedding now costs $35,329. The average venue cost has gone to more than $16,000 and the average cost of a dance band is close to $5,000. These costs don’t count the honeymoon!  The latest cost, according to CNN Money, to be merely a guest at a wedding has now reached $888 – that’s for travel, gift, clothes, etc.

Just for fun, I filled out an OnLine form to estimate wedding costs for our grandson and his fiancé using their preferences and location.  The estimate for a wedding that fits their rustic style came close to 50 grand.  There is no way they would, even if they could afford to, spend that kind of money; more to the point, there is no way they can! These are two young adults who will finish college with school debt. They are fine young people who have worked all through college.  Further, we are a large family on both sides and while none is poor, it would be the height of foolishness to spend that kind of money for one wedding when there are other children who will be marrying.

Sadly, far too many families go ahead and foot the bill for an extravagant wedding – or weddings. I talked recently with the butcher at our grocery store. He told me that he just gave his daughter $2,000 for her 2nd wedding, lamenting that he was still paying off the $35,000 bill from her first wedding. Like that father, far too many families are ending up in debt, using up retirement funds, or going bankrupt from excessive spending for a wedding ceremony.

Having three granddaughters, wedding costs are a very personal concern. Obviously, families want to have a celebration when their loved ones take such an important step in life. For Christian families, it is a sacred ceremony of solemn vows with deep significance to be witnessed by family and friends. Most people want the event to be memorable – and classy if not elegant! But do we really need to have a hair stylist at more than $100, a make-up artist for another hundred, not to mention dinner at $100 per person, dessert at $15 per person and drinks for $25 per person?

Having spent my career as a social science analyst focusing on marriage, family, women and children’s issues, I am aware that the problem of wedding costs has deep ramifications.  Today, it is not uncommon to hear a young woman introduced as a man’s “fiancé” even though the couple has lived together for years and many have even had children together.  Unmarried couples apparently feel comfortable posting pictures to Instagram obviously showing them living together, even in bed together. The familiar refrain is that they are not ready for marriage yet (but they are ready to play house and enjoy sex together), or they explain that they can’t afford to get married (but somehow they manage the costs of living together (most with relative luxury).

We all know today’s drill – couples are advised to wait for marriage until they have a good job and are financially secure, better to already have a house and car.  The average age for marriage in the United States is now 27 years of age for women and 29 for men, up from 20 for women and 22 for men in 1960. So it’s not uncommon for a couple in the mid to late thirties to have a very fancy, very expensive wedding after having lived together for several years or more.

Not surprisingly, marriage has become a class divide.  The well-educated and better off economically get married while those less educated and less well off financially increasingly tend to forgo marriage and just cohabitate. All that has resulted in a dramatic change in demographics: According to Business Insider, now “less than half of American adults are married — down from 72% in 1960 – and almost as many babies are born out of wedlock as to married couples.” Social scientists across the political and ideological continuum agree that children thrive best in a married couple family and acknowledge the crisis of well-being for fatherless children in today’s culture.

One place to begin correcting this cultural crisis is to restore common sense to the outrageous expense and extravagance of marriage ceremonies these days. Dare we describe them as ostentatious?  Certainly, it’s fair to say many couples spend far more time on wedding planning than on marriage preparation! It’s also fair to say some families spend more on one wedding than they spend on charitable giving over a decade!

While divorce rates have leveled off (unless you include the separations of cohabiting couples which have much the same emotional impact), perhaps it’s time to also emphasize the need for couples to spend time preparing for a successful marriage.  In addition to the exorbitant financial cost of today’s ceremonies, there is the emotional wear and tear of what is often a year-long planning process that rivals the preparations (and number of “generals” involved) for the invasion of Normandy. Arguably, there was never a funnier wedding-movie scene than the one in “Plaza Suite” where the bride Mimze locks herself in the bathroom and won’t come out for her father, played by Walter Matthau, until the groom arrives and nonchalantly commands her to “Cool it.” In fact, stress can and does take an enormous toll when couples neglect their relationship as wedding planning becomes the top priority. 

Finally, marriage is too important, has too many priceless unparalleled benefits to be held hostage by the expectations and demands of the ultimate dream wedding. As Dennis Miller once quipped, “Never ever discount the idea of marriage. Sure, someone might tell you that marriage is just a piece of paper. Well, so is money and nothing is more life-affirming than cold, hard cash.”

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