‘A Diamond Is Forever’ And Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses And Marriage Duration

Andrew M. Francis

Emory University – Department of Economics

Hugo M. Mialon

Emory University – Department of Economics

September 15, 2014


In this paper, we evaluate the association between wedding spending and marriage duration using data from a survey of over 3,000 ever-married persons in the United States. 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.

‘A Diamond Is Forever’ And Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship Between Wedding Expenses And Marriage Duration – Introduction

In 2014, wedding industry revenues are projected to exceed $50 billion in the United States (IBISWorld, 2014). According to a national survey conducted annually by the top wedding website TheKnot.com, the average wedding cost was $29,858 in 2013 (TheKnot, 2014). The wedding industry has grown substantially throughout the twentieth century in part due to the rise of consumerism and industry efforts to commodify love and romance. One example of this was the emergence of bridal magazines, especially Bride’s, which played an important role in developing a platform for many service providers to reach consumers and in promoting the necessity of a lavish wedding for a fairy tale marriage (Howard, 2006; Otnes and Pleck, 2003). In 1959, Bride’s recommended that couples set aside 2 months to prepare for their wedding and published a checklist with 22 tasks for them to complete. By the 1990s, the magazine recommended 12 months of wedding preparation and published a checklist with 44 tasks to complete (Otnes and Pleck, 2003).

Another example of industry efforts to commodify love and romance is that of marketing campaigns for diamond engagement rings. Several of the most well-known campaigns were by De Beers, the global diamond company. In the late 1930s, De Beers created the slogan “a diamond is forever,” which was rated the number one slogan of the century by Advertising Age (1999). The campaign aimed to link the purchase of a diamond engagement ring to the hope of a long-lasting marriage. In the 1980s, De Beers introduced another influential campaign, which sought to increase the standard for how much should be spent on an engagement ring with slogans such as “Isn’t two months’ salary a small price to pay for something that lasts forever?” (Cawley, 2014; Sullivan, 2013). These marketing efforts were effective. Prior to World War II, in Western countries, only 10% of engagement rings contained a diamond. By the end of the century, about 80% did (Cawley, 2014). In 2012, total expenditures on  diamond rings were roughly $7 billion in the United States (Sullivan, 2013).

However, the industry message that associates wedding expenditures with longer-lasting marriages has never been statistically evaluated. In this paper, we estimate the relationship between wedding spending (including spending on engagement rings and wedding ceremonies) and the duration of marriages. To do so, we carried out an online survey of over 3,000 evermarried persons residing in the United States. Overall, we find little evidence that expensive weddings and the duration of marriages are positively related. On the contrary, in multivariate analysis, we find evidence that relatively high spending on the engagement ring is inversely associated with marriage duration among male respondents. Relatively high spending on the wedding is inversely associated with marriage duration among female respondents, and relatively low spending on the wedding is positively associated with duration among male and female respondents. Additionally, we find that having high wedding attendance and having a honeymoon (regardless of how much it cost) are generally positively associated with marriage duration.

A large body of literature analyzes the economic determinants of marital quality and duration (e.g., Becker, Landes, and Michael 1977; Bradbury et al. 2000; Charles and Stephens 2004; Conger et al. 1990; Dew, Britt, and Huston 2012; Easterlin 2003; Grossbard and Mukhopadhyay 2013; Hoffman and Duncan 1995; Stutzer and Frey 2004). Moreover, a handful of studies examine the economics of engagement (Brinig 1990; Farmer and Horowitz 2005) and the signaling properties of diamond rings and other premarital gifts (Bird and Smith 2005; Camerer 1988; Cronk and Dunham 2007; Sozou and Seymour 2005). To our knowledge, our study is the first to examine the potential link between wedding expenses and marriage duration.

Data and methods

Our study’s target population is adult US residents who have ever been married to someone of the opposite sex and are not widowed. Data collection involved implementation of a survey questionnaire. The questionnaire contained approximately 40 questions and covered topics pertaining to a person’s current marriage or first marriage (if divorced or married more than once). Specifically, we gathered information on marital status, marriage duration, children, length of time dated, feelings and attitudes at the time of wedding proposal, honeymoon, engagement ring expenses, wedding attendance, total wedding expenses, age, age at marriage, gender, race/ethnicity, education, employment, household income, region of residence, religious attendance, and differences in age, race, and education between respondent and partner. The questionnaire could be completed in 5 minutes.

marriage duration

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