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Why Marry?

Rebecca Mead, whom I am proud to call a longtime friend, is a staff writer for the New Yorker. In addition to being a very good reporter, she’s also a very good stylist; this is a rare and blessed combination. She has just published her first book, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, which is full of interesting stuff. For instance:

Every year, as might be expected, the American Wedding Study’s* tally of the amount spent by Americans on getting married increases: from about $22,000 in 2003 to more than $26,000 in 2005 to, in 2006, a grand total of $27,852 … According to the 2006 study, Americans were spending $14 billion annually on engagement rings, wedding rings, and other items of jewelry. They were purchasing just over $7 billion worth of wedding gowns, tuxedos, flower girl outfits, bridesmaids’ dresses, veils, satin shoes, gloves, stoles, and other items of wedding attire. Brides and grooms were registering for $9 billion worth of gifts from their friends and relatives, of whom there were an average of 165 at each wedding. The expenses of the wedding day itself, including the food and drink, the limousines, the flowers, the wedding bands, and other nuptial paraphernalia, totaled $39 billion, which comes to [$750 million] being spent on weddings across America every weekend (with the exception of Super Bowl weekend, when only the oblivious or highly inconsiderate decide to begin married life). A further $8.5 billion were being spent on honeymoon vacations.

I have just started the book, so I am not sure if Rebecca addresses the question I find most compelling about weddings: Why are there still so many of them? I don’t mean why are there so many big, expensive weddings of the sort that Rebecca chronicles — but why, when the advantages of marriage itself in this country seem to be not much greater than in other countries where many forgo it (c.f. Ségolene Royal, the recent runner-up in France’s presidential race) — why do so many people still get married all? There are obviously a lot of good and true reasons, but I also wonder how much the herd mentality — and the wedding-industry pressure described in One Perfect Day — have to do with it.

* The American Wedding Study is, alas, conducted by Conde Nast, which is a publisher of several bridal magazines (as well as the New Yorker).