If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy, it might seem like big weddings are a no-no for people who prioritize “real” love. This mentality is echoed throughout different cultural references: “bridezillas” care too much about their big day, and people with gigantic weddings (like Kim Kardashian and her ex-husband, Kris Humphries) are more about flash than about a genuine commitment. However, a new report indicates that not all is what it appears to be: bigger weddings might, indeed, help ensure a more lasting marriage.
The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia surveyed recently married American couples in order to find out whether there was a correlation between marriage quality, and the history between spouses. They were surprised to find a clear correlation between having a larger, formal wedding, and being in a happier marriage. The findings were published in a paper titled “Before ‘I Do.’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?”
In the survey, 28% of those who had a small, intimate wedding with 50 guests or less were part of a higher-quality marriage, while those who had a formal, larger wedding with 150+ guests reported being part of a higher-quality marriage 47% of the time (in this survey, “higher-quality” was measured through responses to questions about relationship happiness, how often spouses talked to each other, whether or not they were considering divorce, etc). The survey followed over 1,000 individuals over a period of about five years; these findings were based on the 418 people who ended up getting married within that time.
The lead authors of the study, Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades, say they considered and controlled for variables that could alter the results, such as gender, religiosity, and income. However, it is difficult to fully weed out “income” for weddings, since parents often finance the event in part, and parental income was not considered for the survey. They admit it is possible that wealthier parents who help pay for more expensive weddings also give money to newlyweds, helping to buffer some of the initial financial stress that might weigh more heavily on other marriages.
“Most of our weddings here at Deerfield range from 150 to 250 guests based on the size of our rooms, with obvious exceptions on either ends,” says Jeff Robinson, Director of Sales at Deerfield Golf Club. “Culturally, some large weddings are tradition – such as those from Indian descent.”
The authors also note it might be part of a social phenomenon in which people inherently desire consistency between present and past conduct.
“According to the work of psychologist Charles Kiesler, commitment is strengthened when it is publicly declared because individuals strive to maintain consistency between what they say and what they do,” explains the study. The public nature of a large wedding with many witnesses might actually strengthen the desire to follow through on the commitment.