Noting the sharply increasing costs of weddings, marriage advocates have begun to urge couples to be less extravagant in their nuptial celebrations for the good of their relationships.
“We ran a survey [in early 2013] with a law firm that looked at reasons for not marrying, and the top reason for men was the cost of the wedding," said Harry Benson, an official with the U.K.-based think tank The Marriage Foundation.
Benson said that the average price for the event in the United Kingdom is around $30,000, according to wedding magazines. Such expenses, he told CNA, are “definitely a barrier" to getting married.
“I think the celebrities have set the bar very, very high with all these hyped-up, high profile, highly photographed weddings, very extravagant events." When couples want the “big, dream wedding," he added, “often it’s very unrealistic."
The Marriage Foundation was established by British judge Paul Coleridge, an expert in family law. Having seen a “stream of human misery pass through his doors," Coleridge decided to launch the charity to promote strong marriages, Benson said.
Part of the promotion of strong marriages, he believes, is focusing more on the marriage than on the wedding.
Melissa Naasko, a Michigan-based wife, mother, and blogger at Dyno-mom, agrees. “If I was going to give a bride advice, it would be to focus more on the marriage and less on the wedding," she told CNA.
Naasko advocates celebrations that won’t break the budget and put burdensome financial stress on the married couple. She recalled planning the wedding of one of her friends a year ago, helping keep the cost reasonable.
When her friend got engaged, the first piece of advice she gave her was “never ever, ever buy a bridal magazine…because they’re all geared just to sell stuff."
“Anytime you pick up a bridal magazine, they’re at least 60 percent ads. You’ll look and see that all the articles in it are sponsored articles."
Avoiding wedding magazines – and shows such as “Say Yes to the Dress" – helps brides to “pay attention more to what their friends and their family are saying, and it becomes more about the people and less about the stuff."
“There’s nothing wrong with having smaller weddings," Naasko urged. “And the marriage obviously is the most important part of a wedding."
“But one of the reasons it’s a social event, is because it’s the public aspect of our lives. Making the wedding itself about people always makes it less expensive."
Not being influenced “by all the propaganda that surrounds the wedding mystique," will ultimately benefit the couple, Naasko reflected.
Catholic commentator Matt Archbold added to the discussion in a blog post for the National Catholic Register in May 2013, noting that “big weddings…might just be causing heartbreak, damaging society, and hurting people’s faith."
Being engaged for more than a year, saving up the money to splurge on the big day, can put couples in a precarious moral situation, often involving cohabitation, which in turn is linked to higher rates of divorce.
“The dream of the lavish Hollywood style wedding is not only ridiculous but harmful to one’s faith and society in general," Archbold wrote.
Another factor that can put stress on couples is the societal pressure put on a fiancé to spend, on average, two months of his salary – $3500 to $5000 – purchasing an engagement ring for his beloved.
The two-month figure was first promoted decades ago by advertisers from the De Beers diamond and mining business, according to Business Insider writer Robin Dhar.
De Beers has effectively held a monopoly on the global diamond market for some 100 years.
Dhar wrote in March 2013 that “Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to."
The marketing campaign of the company that year pushed the idea that diamonds are a sign of love and affluence, and was massively successful in doing so.
Diamond rings are now given to 80 percent of American fiancées on their engagement – mostly because the company which has effectively monopolized the market for diamonds told men they should.
Adding to the financial strain of many couples in the U.S. is student loan debt. A May 2013 survey for the American Institute of CPAs showed that 15 percent of student loan borrowers have postponed getting married because of debt incurred from going to university.
Student loan debt in 2012 averaged nearly $25,000, a figure 70 percent greater than in 2004.
In his comments to CNA, Benson of The Marriage Foundation also touched on the rise in cohabitation, linked to the delay in getting married.
“The fundamental issue is that we’ve normalized cohabitation, which is much more unstable than marriage."
He added that “deferring marriage is because we’ve effectively broken the link between marriage and childbirth."
The Marriage Foundation is focusing its mission on educating couples about the benefits of getting married and having children, and helping them to realize they can have a wedding reception focused on what’s important, rather than on extravagant spending.
This article was originally published on CNA June 15, 2013.