The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Saturday, 19th May 2018, at St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle raises interesting questions regarding the relationship between weddings and local economic development. There can be no question that weddings are big business and that a Royal Wedding, in particular, is exceptionally big business that will make an important and measurable contribution to local and national economic development. Weddings both create jobs in local economies and elsewhere. There are many ways of determining the economic impacts of weddings. On the one side, there are productivity issues related to employee distraction and the planning of a big event and the subsequent honeymoon. On the other side, there are the economic impacts of purchasing a frock or frocks and all the accessories combined with the cost of a church or a secular service. A wedding is an incremental accumulation of decisions and each decision comes with a choice, a cost and a local economic impact. Weddings create memories but also local employment.
In the 1950s the average cost of a wedding in the UK was around £70 but this has now risen to close to £20,000. In the UK the total annual spend on weddings is now more than £10billion. What is interesting about this expenditure is that part of this is relatively evenly dispersed across the UK replicating the geographical distribution of the population. There are also wedding ‘hot spots’ or buildings and locations that have been transformed into wedding venues that focus on proving wedding experiences – a form of wedding conveyor belt. There are also weddings involving exports or overseas weddings.
There are many ways of planning a wedding. From the low cost customised wedding experience or to the exceptionally high cost wedding extravaganza. Each type has its own special features. The type depends on the couple, their friends and family. There are multiple costs. These include an average of just under £3,000 spent in catering in hotels, restaurants and specialist wedding venues. This includes the costs of hiring a venue combined with food and drink and, in addition, a paid bar. One calculation is that the hospitality industry generates just over a billion a year from weddings and this does not take in to account hen and stag parties. Expenditure on frocks/suits contributes another £500m a year to the UK economy. Frocks, or perhaps the better term is bridal gowns, represent a niche form of experience in retailing and manufacturing – the sale and production of future dreams. In addition, the average wedding includes around 100 guests and each guest will spend on average £100 on clothing for the wedding. This adds about £1.6bn of expenditure to the UK economy. On top of this will be travel and accommodation for wedding guests that can add another £1.5bn and the cost of wedding presents – another £2bn.
Hosting a wedding overseas reduces the cost of the wedding by 50%, but increases costs for wedding guests. There is thus a financial cost to the UK economy, but the extent of this cost depends on the allocation of profits between the UK and foreign firms providing tourism services – flights to hotels. On average, just under 90% of newly married couples honeymoon abroad spending, on average, just under £3,000 or just under £700million in total. There are a whole series of other items that we have not covered – rings, makeup including eyebrow styling, hairdressing, flowers, ring owls, hired cars, photography, a website, entertainers, organists and the wedding insurance industry.
One more recent trend is wedding customization with a focus on trying to create an experience that recognises a couple’s lifestyle, personalities and creativity. A wedding can be a statement that is reflected in the choice of dress, venue, cake, decorations, entertainment, location and music. Weddings can include carefully crafted experiences in which couples differentiate themselves through selective and customised consumption. There is an emphasis on the uniqueness of the wedding experience as couples engage with celebrity and luxury-laden consumer culture. There is also a culture of copying or replicating features that come from the weddings of the famous. This includes copying dresses, rings and even foliage. For some, a wedding is the creation of a long-standing dream – a fantasy or an aspirational experience. There is an argument that wedding planning encourages couples to adjust to traditional gender roles – who organises what and why? But this type of argument ignores the simple fact that a wedding is a very distinct form of consumer culture that is perhaps detached from the evolution of future spousal relationships. A wedding is a moment of transformation and transcendence of the everyday or the ordinary – it is a moment of reflection and of celebration and one of memory and for some of the moments that they hope to forget.
According to an IBISWorld 2017 report on wedding services, the global market for weddings is worth an estimated $300bn per year, but this figure is just a fraction of the whole picture. Weddings are expensive, and marriage is also an expensive relationship. Nevertheless, long-term, married couples have significant financial advantages including the opportunities associated with dual earning households and the accumulation of household wealth including pension assets. The key issue is that these financial advantages continue to develop as long as they remain married and avoid divorce. Weddings might be big business and expensive, but divorce is arguably more expensive.
What is interesting about weddings is that the decision to plan and hold an elaborate wedding is rarely questioned. Weddings come with environmental costs – they create environmental pollution – and also ethical questions regarding employment conditions of those implicated in the manufacture of artefacts for weddings – from clothing to gifts. The traditional wedding is still one that often involves a long, white gown or gowns, dress suit(s), a multitiered cake or some form of substitute, abundant foliage and flowers, attendants in matching finery, a reception and a honeymoon. On the one side, weddings can be considered as wasteful affairs – wasteful of natural resources and of money. There are many alternative ways of spending £20,000. On the other side, there is an important debate to have concerning weddings. Has the conventional wedding become less of a ritual or rite of passage and more of a large party that has lost most of its religious and communal meaning? There are many ways of answering this question, but perhaps the most appropriate is to ask this question of each wedding couple – each should know why they are planning and organising their wedding. In any case, during the wedding day, they should celebrate their marriage and future, but also reflect on the many contributions their wedding will have made to local economic development.
This blog was written by Professor John Bryson, City-REDI, University of Birmingham.
The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.
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