Young adults - the so-called Millennials - are getting married
at much lower rates than any previous generation. If the current
trend continues, more than 30% of Millennial women won't be
married by 40, almost twice the number for Generation X women,
according to a recent Urban Institute report.
The drop in the number of marriages and weddings could have a
deep business impact on the wedding industry, affecting
everything from restaurants and catering halls, to hotels,
airlines, and countless other industries that serve the marriage
business. If these are just marriages being delayed due to the
economy or changing social norms, then it will be just a bump in
the road. But if these Millennials choose to not get married at
all, it will dramatically alter the business prospects for the
hundreds of thousands of Americans who make their living helping
others enter and celebrate matrimony.
What is happening and why?
Young people are getting married less often for two main reasons.
The first is that the recession ushered in an era of financial
caution. Weddings can be expensive, and in uncertain economic
times, they are not a great way to spend money.
If the current rate continues, only 69.3% of women will marry
by 40. If the number bounces back to pre-recession rates,
however, it could rise to 76.8%. For men, the corresponding
numbers would be 65% and 72.6%.
The second reason fewer young people are getting married may
not change simply because the economy is improving. More people
are living together without being formally married, and the
stigma associated with that has faded. Neil Howe, an economist
and the author of several books about Millennials, told
that some young people feel the need to be established
financially before getting married. Not being wed, however, has
not stopped couples from buying homes together -- or having
"The shift is the shift in the role of marriage in one's
life," he said.
Owning property and having a child with a significant other
can create many of the same legal bonds and responsibilities as
marriage. Beyond that, things like making medical decisions,
passing on your estate, and parenting issues can often be dealt
with through a lawyer. If you remove those problems from the
equation, marriage -- at least in the government-sanctioned sense
-- is really just a technicality.
How big is the wedding industry?
American weddings are a $51 billion industry that employs nearly
800,000 people, according to a report from market-research firm
IBISWorld in June 2013. The future of that industry lies in
whether this is just a temporary shift in priorities due to the
recession or an overall change in how people view marriage.
The research company believes that the trend will be
short-lived and that the market will rebound.
During the past five years, many economic and consumer
trends acted against the Wedding Services industry. High
unemployment reduced budgets for weddings and led to postponed
nuptials, and individuals returned to school during the
downturn. In addition, longer engagements, cohabitation before
marriage and a higher average marriage age all became more
acceptable, pushing the marriage rate down. Although some of
these trends will linger, nuptials that were postponed will
finally be planned and consumer spending on weddings will
Weddings that are being delayed for economic reasons will
eventually happen. But it's possible that while the number of
people getting married will recover, the amount spent on weddings
won't bounce back as quickly -- if at all. The recession has in
some ways made Millennials more cautious than generations that
came up during periods of economic success.
If you've lived through not being able to find a job and
having to move back in with your parents, it's likely you will
treat money differently than a generation that experienced easier
success. That could lead to more modest weddings and less
borrowing to make them happen.
The economy and changing social norms certainly won't stop
some couples from wanting to tie the knot, but it could lead to
others deciding it's not needed. The real change will be
long-term if American pop culture stops fetishizing weddings. If
Millennials make marriage less of a big deal, then
perhaps their children won't grow up dreaming of "their big day."
If weddings become reasonable affairs, then perhaps the marriage
industry will not recover.
It seems unlikely that people will quickly abandon
the notion of getting married -- if only because it's the easiest
way to legally sanction a union between two people in the
government's eyes. It's not crazy, however, to believe that
spending tens of thousands on a wedding may become less common.
Weddings are a bad investment, and bad economic times may have
permanently made younger Americans less likely to make those.
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Will Millennials Ruin the Marriage Business?
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