Earlier this month, The Knot released the results of its annual “Real Weddings Survey,” which reported that the average wedding (honeymoon excluded) cost $31,213 in 2014, a 4.5 percent increase from the previous year. In 2013, Will Oremus took a look at where those numbers come from and explained why they’re less than truthful. The original is reprinted below.
Weddings are expensive. There’s no way around it. Well, maybe one. But for most couples, eloping doesn’t start to seem like a really good idea until you’re neck-deep in the wedding planning process, and by then it’s too late.
Just how expensive are they? It depends, of course, on three factors: where you get married, how many people you invite, and whether you or anyone in your immediate family is the sort of person who can’t imagine a celebration without Chiavari chair covers. But when you’re starting to plan a wedding and trying to get a rough idea of how severely it is likely to dent your bank account, “it depends” isn’t a very helpful answer. So my fiancée and I did what most couples do: We asked Google how much the typical wedding costs.
The answer from all quarters—wedding sites, credible news outlets, the New York Post—is remarkably consistent, precise, and definitive. It is also grossly misleading, and almost certainly wrong.
“Average wedding cost $28,400 last year,” reports CNN Money. “Average U.S. wedding costs $27,000!!” enthuses the New York Daily News. “Average cost of U.S. wedding hits $27,021,” declares Reuters, which should know better. That’s more than just expensive. For a lot of people, it’s prohibitive.
These reports often point out that the national average doesn’t tell you everything, because the average cost in some states is much higher than in others. In New York City, for instance, the average cost is an eye-popping $76,687, according to CNN Money. Say “I do” in Alaska, and the figure plummets to $15,504.
But even accounting for regional variation, these numbers seem exorbitant. And the New York number is positively Gatsby-esque. My fiancée and I always knew we were not particularly well-off by Empire State standards, but we couldn’t believe that our fellow Manhattanites were shelling out a sum that exceeds our combined annual salaries on a single decadent day’s worth of nuptial festivities.
In fact, most of them aren’t—and nor is the typical American couple dropping $28,000 on a wedding, or anything particularly close to that number. So why does everyone report this number like it’s a fact?
Watch: Why are wedding dresses so expensive?
The first problem with the figure is what statisticians call selection bias. One of the most extensive surveys, and perhaps the most widely cited, is the “Real Weddings Study” conducted each year by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com. (It’s the sole source for the Reuters and CNN Money stories, among others.) They survey some 20,000 brides per annum, an impressive figure. But all of them are drawn from the sites’ own online membership, surely a more gung-ho group than the brides who don’t sign up for wedding websites, let alone those who lack regular Internet access. Similarly, Brides magazine’s “American Wedding Study” draws solely from that glossy Condé Nast publication’s subscribers and website visitors. So before they do a single calculation, the big wedding studies have excluded the poorest and the most low-key couples from their samples. This isn’t intentional, but it skews the results nonetheless.