December 21, 2008

Recession slays Bridezilla

If the NYT had any sense of humor, that would have been the headline for an article in the Fashion section about brides slashing their bloated wedding budgets during the recession.

As the financial condition of the country worsens, the wedding industry, so long considered recession-proof, is seeing fairy-tale weddings stripped of their sprites, their sparkle and everything else that suggests splurge.


That's interesting if true. If something is recession-proof, that's usually a code for having a short shelf-life, so that whether you like it or not, you have to keep buying it. Gas is a typical example: you may decrease gas spending during a recession, but you still have to go places, so the average person will still be buying a fair amount of gas.

You see the opposite for things with long shelf-lives, like cars. During a recession, you don't need a new car because the old one is fine, maybe with a few repairs, and anyway, you can buy a new one in five years. So the average person really cuts down on their "new car" spending. That's why the American auto industry has been clobbered harder than American oil companies.

If weddings used to be recession-proof, that means that the average bride and groom viewed it like filling up their car -- like gas in the tank, the fulfillment that the wedding provides won't last long. They'll view it as something comparatively cheap and disposable. And if weddings are now getting rocked by the recession, that means the typical couple view it like buying a new car or new house -- one of those Really Big Purchases that is supposed to fulfill you for a very long time. Since when has a wedding been considered a font of boundless joy?

A search of the NYT shows that the term "Bridezilla" surfaced once in 2001, and became common only when we came out of the dot-com recession in 2003. The phrase "bachelorette party" in its current usage first turns up in 1990, but only becomes common after 1995. So despite the hype that has always gone along with weddings within the past -- I don't know, 50 to 100 years maybe -- it does seem like outright wedding mania is a very recent cultural shift. But since the article doesn't mention anything about longer historical trends, for all we know, we're returning to a pattern of 200 or 300 years ago.

At any rate, if you're going to get married, now is the time to do it on the cheap and have an easy excuse. If your wife eventually complains about how her right to have a glamorous wedding was violated, and how you definitely need to have a second, ostentatious wedding -- at least you get a clear signal that the marriage is doomed and that you should eject, or at least start dating a refreshing younger girl, if you must stay together. It's better to figure this out by getting one obvious signal rather than having to read into a million subtle signals.

6 comments:

  1. Opulence of weddings is a somewhat unreliable gauge of economic conditions for a couple of reasons. First of all, weddings are typically planned far in advance. I don't know if there are reliable statistics available, but my guess is that the average wedding that involves the first marriage for both partners, excluding elopements, has a lead time of at least two years. Many reception venues book up at least that far in advance. What might seem extravagant in late 2008 might not have seemed anywhere near as bad when the couple made their plans in early 2006.

    In addition, couples generally hope to recoup much or all of the cost of their weddings through cash gifts. Thia gives weddings a bit of insulation from economic hard times.

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  2. Steve Johnson8:19 AM

    "In addition, couples generally hope to recoup much or all of the cost of their weddings through cash gifts. Thia gives weddings a bit of insulation from economic hard times."

    What that means is that couples will be willing to spend up to what they think guests will contribute. In a recession, expected gifts go down, so wedding expenditures go down as well.

    The factor that goes in the other direction is that more of the gifts in weddings come from wealth as opposed to income. Wedding gifts tend to be cross-generational spending, from older relatives and friends of older relatives to the younger bride and groom.

    The unique thing about this recession is just how wealth destroying it has been, unlike previous downturns. Not surprising that spending on weddings is down, expected gifts have to have nosedived.

    -Steve Johnson

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  3. johnny five11:38 PM

    At any rate, if you're going to get married, now is the time to do it on the cheap and have an easy excuse.

    wrong.

    recessions are the times during which second-tier gold diggers don their surprisingly effective camouflage and chase "security".
    you better believe that divorce rates fall during recessions ... and rise again once the economy picks itself back off the mat.

    the correct time to get married is to a woman who is happy with a diamond-less ring and an inexpensive wedding amidst prosperity. with the current state of north american family law, anything else is equivalent to tap-dancing across a minefield.

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  4. recessions are the times during which second-tier gold diggers don their surprisingly effective camouflage and chase "security".

    I said "if" you're going to get married, now is the time. Not, even if you weren't planning on it, you'd better get to it. Read better next time.

    you better believe that divorce rates fall during recessions ... and rise again once the economy picks itself back off the mat.

    Wrong.

    This is trivial to find out, so you're obviously a very lazy person -- and not insightful enough to make up for slacking off.

    Check out the graph in this 2007 news article about how divorce rates have steadily fallen since 1981:

    Divorce graph

    There's a steady rise from about 1960 to 1980 -- so the huge mid-'70s recession had no effect whatsoever on the divorce rate. The rate does decline during the huge early '80s recession, but continues downward through the recovery period as well.

    Neither of the two recessions after the early '80s, nor their recovery periods, are detectable at all in the divorce rate.

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  5. The Great Depression, and two short recessions of the 1950s likewise aren't visible in the graph.

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  6. If a couple decides to scale back on their wedding, because they know that expected gifts are likely to decline, in many cases their main option is to pare back on the guest list - which will, of course, cause gifts to decline even more. Switching to a cheaper venue may not be possible because reception sites book up far in advance and there may be cancellation fees.

    ReplyDelete

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