Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Weddings are getting out of hand

In light of the problem with housing affordability, perhaps the least sensible modern trend is the rising extravagance and cost of weddings.

There was a time, back in the 1970s when I got married, when wedding fashion was tending towards simplicity. You might have thought, and I did think, that this would just continue until the whole thing would eventually just became a sort of hippie expression of love in front of two families and a few friends, followed by a party at the pub.

But no, definitely not.

Big weddings are back with a vengeance, and are more the special, once in a lifetime, very expensive day than they have ever been.

Anecdotally, from my limited observation, it’s getting out of control. Statistically, numbers are hard to come by: the last definitive survey of the wedding industry was in 2011 by the research house IBISworld, which found that the average cost of a wedding was $36,000.

Since then the component costs -- hen’s party, buck’s party, catering, venue, dresses, flowers, fancy cars, photographs -- have all gone up in price … a lot, out of step with falling inflation.

The average price of a wedding now is probably approaching $50,000, which anecdotally sounds about right. Some I’ve been to obviously cost much more. That’s a deposit for a house.

So given the difficulty young couples now have in affording to buy a home anywhere closer than 50km from the city, the question arises: why are they blowing their deposit on a party?

Or perhaps more to the point, why don’t the parents give them cash for a deposit instead of an expensive wedding that is over in a day?

I suspect the answer, as it is for many modern perplexities, is Facebook. Social media, and Facebook in particular, seems to have done three things:

1. Dramatically widened everyone’s circle of friends, and therefore the number wedding invitees,

2. Allowed wedding photos to be published widely instead of kept in an album for rare private viewings later, and

3. Allowed not only those who have gone to a wedding to feel either inadequate or superior, but also hundreds of Facebook ‘friends’ who aren’t invited.

These are powerful social forces. Weddings used to be quite small, but now 100 guests is your starting point, and even then family numbers are probably getting squeezed by the proliferation of Facebook friends who need to be invited.

The fact that wedding photos are now widely published either on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter is a huge change. It means there is immense pressure on the location and the clothing. To some extent weddings have become little more than elaborate photo shoots.

But I suspect the most important thing is envy, one of the most powerful forces in the universe. It’s much the same as when the publication of CEO salaries led to an explosion in their salaries because each could see what the others were getting and no company wanted to be seen as a low payer.

It used to be we only peeked at celebrity weddings in magazines, but the new ability for those planning a wedding to see what everyone they know has done, and a lot of people they don’t know as well, is leading to exponential growth in their extravagance and cost.

A wedding is supposed to be that ‘most special day’, but how can it be the ‘most special’ if Natalie and Jordan’s wedding was better? It’s simply not on.

This, I submit, is a key reason why housing has become unaffordable: newlyweds can’t raise the deposit because they blew it on the wedding.

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