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Who’s Paying for the Wedding?

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We all know the bride’s parents traditionally pay for the wedding. But some customs change with changing times. In a tough economic climate, does that tradition still hold?


The custom of the bride’s parents paying for the wedding is a vestige of the old dowry system, in which the bride’s family gave the groom money or goods to compensate him for taking over the responsibility of supporting their daughter. In modern times, of course, a wife is no longer considered a financial burden, at least in Western societies. Old stereotypes like the bickering Bundys of Married with Children (“I hate work. That’s why I got married”—Peg Bundy) are the stuff of satire.


Yet traditions often outlive their original purpose or symbolism. While only 1 in 6.62 brides is a virgin, the vast majority—1 in 1.15 (87 percent)—will wear a long white dress.


Social mores may have changed—1 in 1.41 marrying couples (71 percent) have lived together before marriage, for example—but weddings themselves remain bastions of tradition in so many ways. Bouquet-throwing, cake-cutting, glass-breaking, first dances, garters, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” … the list of such “somethings” goes on and on. In fact, the odds a couple that gets married will have a large wedding with all the traditions are 1 in 1.32 (76 percent).


But even though most couples now profess themselves to be equal partners in marriage, brides’ families are still footing the biggest chunk of the bill. According to wedding site The Knot, the average budget for a US wedding in 2009 was $28,385. On average, the bride’s parents contributed 46 percent. And it’s the bride and groom themselves—not his mom and dad—who kicked in most of the rest. The happy couple coughed up 40 percent; the groom’s parents, just 12 percent.


While the bridegroom’s family often traditionally picks up certain expenses—rehearsal dinner, bar tab—they’re usually relatively small pieces of the wedding pie. The onus of paying for the highest-ticket items, like the venue (typically 45 percent of the entire wedding budget), the band, and the photographer, still usually falls on the bride’s parents. Hence, 46 percent vs. 12 percent.


Clearly, some traditions die hard.


Originally published on Book of Odds

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