Weddings Are Not The Budget Drains Some Surveys Suggest
Wall Street Journal August 24, 2007; Page B1
Tying the knot costs, on average, nearly $30,000 in the U.S. Three major surveys say so, and a spate of news articles this summer and in prior wedding seasons parrot that figure.
But the typical American wedding appears to cost half that, or even less. The surveys reach couples who are likely to have more-expensive weddings than average. Furthermore, the reported numbers are bigger because of how the surveys define “average.”
The so-called average cost — between $27,400 and $28,800, according to the latest iteration of these surveys — is a mean. That’s the kind of average you might remember from grade-school math: In this case, it’s the sum of all the survey responses, divided by the number of people surveyed. The mean is especially susceptible to a single lavish exception: One $1 million wedding put into the mix with 54 weddings costing $10,000 each would boost the mean to $28,000, although among the 55 couples, $10,000 would seem a much better representation of the typical cost.
For the three surveys, the median wedding cost is closer to $15,000. The median is the middle figure when you line up a set of numbers in order of size. It is a popular choice for social statistics because it is unperturbed by very small or very large numbers.
Newlyweds and to-be-weds who respond to the surveys generally are those contacted by the traditional, and traditionally expensive, matrimonial industry. They’re more likely to include dozens of elements in their wedding price tags. A couple having a civil ceremony and a no-frills reception is less likely to be found by a big wedding Web site, a bridal-magazine publisher or the maker of wedding invitations — the groups sponsoring the surveys.
The average wedding last year cost $27,400, according to The Knot Inc.’s email survey in January of 2,014 members of its wedding site, theknot.com, who got married last year. But that group isn’t representative of all couples.
Roughly 2.2 million weddings took place last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fewer than 40% of them were members of The Knot, which allows couples to create gift registries and post event information, and to access information on services. And just 40% of members opted to receive email. One-third of those received the wedding survey, and fewer than 2% of those filled it out (a low rate for The Knot, which typically receives 4% to 6% response rates, said a spokeswoman).
The Knot takes steps to ensure that its respondents are representative in terms of geography and household income. But research manager Kristyn Clement acknowledges that The Knot’s members may not be typical spenders. “Our market is brides who are planning an actual wedding and putting resources toward that event,” Ms. Clement says. “Are there brides who are not spending money on their weddings? Potentially.”
Shane McMurray draws survey respondents for his Wedding Report from customers of his Tuscon-based wedding-invitation business, visitors to his costofwedding.com site and other sources. “Is it the best representation” of all couples? Mr. McMurray asks. “Maybe not.”
The mean of the latest 1,519 survey responses he has fielded is $28,800, but the median is half that. That’s very close to the median figure for The Knot’s latest survey: $15,100.
Condé Nast Bridal Media, publisher of the magazines Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Brides, reports a mean cost of $27,852 from its latest Online survey of subscribers and Online readers of its magazines, conducted in November 2005. The median cost was $14,182.
Rebecca Mead, staff writer at Condé Nast’s New Yorker magazine, writes in her new book, “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding,” that the survey covered only brides who had made themselves known to the Bridal Group and thereby “already demonstrated an interest in having the kind of wedding that bridal magazines promote.”
The surveys have led to other numerical flaws. For instance, Condé Nast’s news release about its latest survey trumpeted that the average cost of weddings had nearly doubled, from $15,208, since 1990. That figure was repeated in several news articles. But the 2006 cost of weddings was just $18,057 in 1990 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator — an increase of just 19%, not 100%, in 16 years, or an annual growth rate of under 1.1%.
These cost numbers may help perpetuate themselves, by creating a sense of inevitability for anxious brides and grooms planning their nuptials. “It can confuse and mislead the brides,” says Richard Markel, executive director of the Association for Wedding Professionals International.
Ms. Mead, whose own wedding cost was “substantially below” the widely reported numbers, says in an interview that couples who hear the numbers may think, “There’s no way around it; there’s no alternative. That means, from the perspective of the wedding industry, you have this group of consumers who are resigned to spending a huge amount of money.”
That said, here are some average figures for a Traditional Wedding.