Study: Bigger Weddings Linked to Happier Marriages


There’s a very popular stereotype, and that is the bigger the wedding, the more inevitable the divorce. You’ll read it in the comments of every blog post about brides: “Some women just want their Special Princess Day and don’t really care about being married!” But what does SCIENCE have to say about this?

The Washington Post reports on a study out of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. The authors recruited 418 people from the University of Denver’s ongoing Relationship Development Study, then tracked them as they married. After five years, they concluded that “higher-quality” marriages were often linked to both “formal” weddings and those with bigger guests lists. They suggest plighting your troth in front of a bigger crowd encourages you to live up to your promises, and having a strong community of family and friends can help a couple clear life’s hurdles more easily.

But the Post also points out that bigger weddings are probably the result of more money somewhere along the line, and while money can’t solve all your problems, it does take care of your financial problems:

The authors, Galena K. Rhoades and Scott M. Stanley, …. unfortunately couldn’t control for everything, such as wedding price or parental income, which were not recorded in the survey data. Parental income in particular could go a long way in explaining the correlation between wedding attendance and marital quality; wealthier parents might be more likely to help out not only with the cost of the wedding, but also other financial stresses that the newlyweds experience later on.

But before you run out and add a hundred people to your guest list at $80/head, it’s worth considering the source a little bit more. The original news release provides the actual title of the study: “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?” Ohhhhh, boy. Additional findings include:

The study challenges the idea that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” – the general notion that what happens in one’s younger years, before marriage, stays there and doesn’t impact the remainder of one’s life.
How people conduct their romantic lives before they tie the knot is linked to their odds of having happy marriages, the study’s authors argue. Past experiences, especially when it comes to love, sex and children, are associated with future marital quality.
Those who have had more romantic experiences – for example, more sexual or cohabiting partners – are less likely to forge a high-quality marriage than those with a less complex romantic history, the researchers found.

Ladies, I know you’re keen to try out those Internet sex tips, but really you’ll be happier in the long run if you enter the marriage bed with all the advance knowledge of a Victorian virgin. That way it’s easier to lay back and think of England!

All joshing aside, that’s a mighty big claim on the basis of a 418-person sample size. (Plus I automatically distrust any piece of research that references Las Vegas.) Not to mention five years is hardly enough time to capture the full sweep of a marriage. Maybe it just takes couples with less experience longer to find the trouble spots in their relationship. Oh, and the National Marriage Project is run by B. Bradford Wilcox, whom you might remember as the coauthor of that charming Washington Post op-ed, “One way to end violence against women? Married dads.”

So please continue to base your wedding, your marriage and your relationships in general on whatever metrics are most important to you. Healthy self-awareness will serve you far better in the long run than stats from some half-assed survey.

Photo via milaphotos/Shutterstock.

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