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Why You’re Being Invited to Fewer Weddings

Originally published by Ben Steverman, Bloomberg [link] on July 28, 2017

You’re not the only one spending fewer summer weekends watching other people get married—but don’t worry, the weddings you’re still invited to might feel a little more special these days. 

Fewer Americans are getting married, and the ones who still are have scaled back their weddings. Their nuptials are becoming smaller, though not necessarily cheaper, affairs.



Many couples are waiting longer and longer to schedule their weddings. In 2015, the median first-time American bride was almost 28 years old and the median groom almost 30, according to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau. (Ten years earlier, the typical bride was 25.5, the typical groom 27.)

The U.S. marriage rate—the number of new marriages per 1,000 people—has been falling for decades. It fell especially fast during the recession, in 2008 and 2009, but there’s little evidence that people started getting married again even as the economy recovered. And research firm IbisWorld predicts the marriage rate will keep falling over the next five years.



From a global perspective, that wouldn’t be a surprise. The U.S. marriage rate would need to fall by about a third to reach the marriage rates in other developed countries. The most recent data show a U.S. marriage rate of 6.9, compared with an average rate of 4.6 for countries in the European Union.


 

In Europe, and increasingly in the U.S., many couples are postponing marriage indefinitely, as it becomes more socially acceptable for couples to live together and have children together outside the bonds of marriage.

The end result isn’t automatically fewer total weddings; even as the marriage rate falls, the population rises. But the number of U.S. weddings did fall last year, by 0.5 percent, to 2.162 million, according to estimates by the Wedding Report, a market-research firm specializing in the wedding industry.

About 310,000 businesses in the U.S. provide services at weddings, according to IbisWorld, and many of them—from florists to bakers to photographers—are feeling the economic pain. Coming out of the recession, the wedding industry’s revenue grew strongly—by more than 4 percent a year from 2012 to 2014, according to IbisWorld. But growth slowed in 2015, and revenue actually dipped slightly last year. Over the next five years, IbisWorld expects an annual growth rate of just 0.3 percent.

Fewer weddings are just one reason wedding-service businesses are struggling, said IbisWorld analyst Anya Cohen. Another is that, with so many new businesses flooding into the market and advertising cheaply online, it’s easier for engaged couples to bargain-hunt. “There’s absolutely been an increase in competition,” she said. Plus, websites such as Pinterest equip couples to go the cheaper, do-it-yourself route for invitations, centerpieces, and other wedding fixtures.

The average wedding cost $26,720 in 2016, according to the Wedding Report, up just 0.3 percent from the previous year—but that average is skewed by a few particularly lavish weddings. The median cost of a wedding was $14,399.



One bright spot for the wedding industry is the pent-up demand for same-sex marriages. Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide two years ago, the Williams Institute estimates about 157,000 same-sex couples have gotten married. About 1.1 million Americans are married to someone of the same sex, the institute said last month, out of an estimated 10.7 million LGBT adults in the U.S.

It’s unclear whether the decline of the American wedding is a permanent trend. American millennials lag previous generations on many metrics of adulthood, from living on their own to buying homes to having kids. Maybe most of them will eventually get around to weddings of their own—but then, it’s possible that many never will, and that they’ll bring the U.S. marriage rate closer to Europe’s.