The Lifetime Costs to Single People of Other People’s Weddings
How weddings unfairly widen the wealth gap between people who marry and people who don’t
A story just published in the New York Times tells us that we need to be “prepping for the year of many, many weddings.” So what’s that going to cost people who are single, not just for any one wedding, but over the course of a lifetime? I looked into the matter for a column I wrote for Unmarried Equality a few years ago. With the organization’s permission, I am sharing it here, adding a few updates along the way. It’s a long story, but be sure to catch the last paragraph (“But that’s only half the story”), even if you skip some of the parts in the middle.
Here’s a quick preview:
Over the course of a lifetime, single people, on the average, spend thousands of dollars on the weddings of other people — maybe even tens of thousands. Their married siblings receive about $20,000 toward their wedding expenses from their parents and parents-in-law. These financial transfers grow out of kindness and customs, but they contribute to wealth inequality between people who marry and people who don’t.
People Who Marry Do Not Become Happier or Healthier, But They Do Become Wealthier
Don’t count on marrying to boost your happiness or health. Claims about those kinds of benefits are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. Material well-being, though, is something else entirely.
People who marry become better off financially. In an important study, Jay Zagorsky tracked assets and debts of more than 9,000 baby boomers between 1985 and 2000. He found that the married participants experienced “per person net worth increases of 77 percent over single respondents.” (However, those who divorced experienced the same decrease in net worth, an average of 77 percent.)
Members of advocacy groups such as Unmarried Equality are especially attuned to the ways in which married people’s advantages follow from the many laws that benefit and protect only people who are legally married. But married people are also beneficiaries of other significant varieties of largesse.