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DO YOUR DUTY TO HELP ECONOMY: GET MARRIED

If making your mother happy isn't reason enough to get married, how about this: You'll help the nation's economy.

Anthony Chan, chief economist for Banc One Investment Advisers, is certain the two are intertwined after studying marriage trends over a 34-year period.What he discovered was that when the number of marriages increases, consumer spending - a key component of economic growth - rises significantly. Likewise, a slowdown in marriages is usually followed by a decline in consumption.

Chan said there is usually about a one-year lag between the increase in the marriage rate and the rise in consumer spending.

Last year's boom in consumer spending, for example, came on the heels of a banner year for weddings. The average monthly increase in marriages was 2.9 percent in 1993, the largest gain since 1969.

There are, of course, other factors that influence consumer spending habits. But Chan said his research shows that the change in the marriage rate can explain nearly half of the change in annual consumption.

Chan's research confirms what people in the wedding industry have known for years: Getting married is big business. In 1992, the latest year for which figures were available, the average cost of a wedding was $16,000, according to Bride's Magazine. And that doesn't include the honeymoon (although it does include $271 for honeymoon clothing.)

And for most couples, the real spending begins after the wedding. ` `Marriages are obviously associated with a lot of new purchases," Chan said. "You're forming a new household, often purchasing a house, new furniture, a car, a refrigerator, linoleum, dishes, the works."

The same holds true for the growing number of couples who wait until they're in their late 20s or 30s to get married, said Cynthia Edmunds, associate editor for Bride's. While those couples have already been on their own for a while, they often use marriage as an excuse to "upgrade," she said. In other words, they get rid of the brown couch and buy better stuff.

"A lot of these people are living in post-college apartments," she said. "They've got the bean bag chair, they've got a blender, but when they get married, they want a Cuisinart."

Chan, who based his research on government statistics, said he doesn't have enough information about last year's marriage rate to predict how it will affect the economy in 1995. But preliminary data for the first eight months of the year suggest that the marriage rate in 1994 may outpace 1993, he said. If that trend holds true for the rest of the year, it could soften an expected slowdown in economic growth, Chan said.

Moreover, if the national rate of marriages continues to increase during the next two years, it could take the sting out of the next recession, Chan suggested. While the "marriage effect" isn't significant enough to prevent a recession - which many economists believe will hit in 1996 or 1997 - it could spell the difference between a severe downturn and a mild one, he said.

Other economists weren't so sure. Ned Hill, an economics and urban studies professor at Cleveland State University, said optimism about the economy often prompts couples to get married, thus triggering the round of spending associated with marriages. But he added that the reverse is also true.

"If they think the economy is in the dumper and their job prospects are risky, they'll delay," he said.

Hill acknowledged that marriage-related spending tends to last for about 18 months after the wedding but said he doesn't believe the lag is significant enough to offset a slowdown in the economy.

"It (the marriage rate) is just another coincident aspect of the business cycle," he said. "All it says is that sofa sales and dinette sales move with the economic expansion."

Chan acknowledged that the marriage rate tends to go up when the economy is healthy. However, he said his research suggests that a big increase in the marriage rate can stretch out an economic expansion.

"When the economy is doing well and all of a sudden there is a big surge in marriages, the economy will be even better next year," he said.