When it comes to the ideal wedding, many couples picture a small, modest ceremony in the company of their closest friends and immediate family.
Along with the intimate atmosphere, there are definite advantages to going small. Weddings are expensive to start, and the cost typically increases by $250-$400 with each additional guest. Finding a venue meant to accommodate large groups can also be difficult.
However, a study by two University of Denver researchers suggest that bigger weddings are actually better – at least when it comes to marital satisfaction.
The report, written for the National Marriage Project, is called Before I do: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults? It may be a mouthful, but it’s full of fascinating insights about how a couple’s premarital history impacts their future marriage.
Researchers Scott M. Stanley and Galena K. Rhodes interviews 418 people who were single at the start of the study and married five years later. They looked at the history of the subjects’ relationships before the marriage, premarital experiences with their spouse, and the wedding itself.
Those people who reported having more guests at their wedding also reported, on average, better quality marriages than those who kept it small.
47% of people who got married in front of 150 or more guests had high-quality marriages. Only 37% of those who had between 50 and 150 guests could say the same.
As for those who had less than 50 wedding guests? Just 31% reported having a high-quality marriage.
What do these numbers mean for couples planning a wedding?
Safety in Numbers
There are several possible explanations for this trend. Charles Kiesler, who studied the same subject earlier, believed a couple’s commitment is stronger when they declare it publicly. People strive to maintain consistency between what they say and what they do in order to avoid cognitive dissonance.
In short, it means we want to do what we say, especially once we’ve said it to many people.
Stanley and Rhodes, the researchers behind the present study, considered alternative possibilities. One explanation could be that the cost of the wedding, rather than the number of guests, was what really set the stage for a happier marriage.
After all, more guests means a bigger price tag, and couples who can afford big weddings likely have greater economic resources. That makes it easier to succeed in other areas of life, including marriage.
However, other studies contradict this idea. One study by economists Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon examined how the expenses of a wedding, including the cost of an engagement ring, impact the chance of divorce. They found that more money was not associated with a more stable marriage, and that pricer weddings could actually increase the risk of divorce.
However, Francis and Mialon did find a pattern related to the number of guests at these weddings: higher attendance was, once again, associated with lower odds of divorce.
There are other possibilities as well. Rhodes and Stanley concede that the study didn’t account for the size of the couples’ social networks, which could also weigh heavily on marital success. Couples with more close friends and family they can lean on for support are also at an advantage when it comes to building a life together.
What’s the Ideal Number of Wedding Guests?
As the researcher note, the number of guests at a wedding is just a tiny piece of the puzzle when it comes to a couple’s life together. Obviously, getting married in front of a large, lively crowd doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage, and small weddings aren’t a recipe for disaster.
The number of people at an average wedding is 150, which is right in the ‘safe zone’ according to Rhodes and Stanley. This would suggest that 150 is an affordable and desirable number for most.
But that doesn’t mean bigger is better. Going over budget and into debt to accommodate that magic number is likely a greater risk to marital stability than a slimmed-down guest list.