A Big Rock Means a Rocky Marriage

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

The more spent on an engagement ring and wedding ceremony, the shorter the marriage, according to a September 2014 study by Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, economics professors 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 United States. Their study, A Diamond Is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration, has since been featured on CNN, the Atlanta Business Chronicle and 11 Alive.

The Emory researchers gathered details such as marriage duration, length of time dating, honeymoon, engagement ring expenses, wedding attendance, total wedding expenses and age at marriage.

They found that those who spent a lot on their wedding were more likely to report that debt from wedding expenses caused stress in their marriage. “Will the psychological lift I get from this offset the financial burden of paying for it?” cautions 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.”

Brides, in particular, are vulnerable to divorce after expensive marriages. In fact, brides who spend $20,000 or more on their wedding are 3.5 times more likely to end up divorced than their frugal counterparts who spent less than half that amount.

“In other words, Bridezilla equals Divorcezilla,” Mialon says. “Don’t let advertisers fool you into spending your life savings on your wedding.”

Wedding industry revenues are expected to exceed $50 billion in the United States this year, according to research firm IBISWorld. “The wedding industry has grown substantially throughout the 20th century in part due to the rise of consumerism and industry efforts to commodity love and romance,” the Emory report found. Bridal magazines market “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.

High rollers marry themselves into the poorhouse.

Francis and Mialon blame the wedding industry for fueling the notion that spending large amounts on the engagement ring and the wedding leads to a successful, committed marriage.“[P]rior to World War II, in Western countries, only 10 percent of engagement rings contained a diamond. By the end of the century, about 80 percent did [and] in 2012, total expenditures on diamond rings were roughly $7 billion in the United States.”

Using the Emory research, Randal Olson, a fourth-year computer science graduate research assistant at Michigan State University, crunched the data this way: Couples who spend $20,000 on their wedding (excluding the cost of the ring) are 46 percent more likely than average to get divorced; that risk falls to 29 percent higher than average for those who spend $10,000 to $20,000. Couples who spend between $1,000 and $5,000 are 18 percent less likely than average to get divorced and those who spend less than $1,000 are 53 percent less likely to get divorced.

The financial burden of a lavish and expensive wedding can tear the marriage apart.

Big weddings suggest 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; women are 1.6 times more likely to end up divorced when they care most about their partner’s wealth.

However, having a lot of family and friends may help: Couples who have 200-plus guests at their wedding are 92 percent less likely than average to get divorced, while those with less than 10 guests are 35 percent more likely than average to get divorced. One solution: the researchers note that you’re 39% less likely to get divorced if the spouses dated 3-plus years before getting married.

Diamonds may be forever, but a bigger diamond doesn’t necessarily mean a longer marriage. College sophomore Rachel Wang found the study “really interesting, but it doesn’t really surprise me.”

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