Meghan, Harry, and the US Wedding Indicator

Prince Harry is pretty much our favorite British royal. He doesn’t seem to take his huge win the birth lottery too seriously, and his time in the British Army Air Corps included flying Apache helicopters in Afghanistan. His charity work now includes veterans’ causes, something we admire and also support.

Still, we aren’t getting up at 1am NY time to watch him tie the knot with Meghan Markle. We do wish the young couple all the happiness in the world, but we’ll watch the highlight reel once the festivities are over.

The whole royal wedding, however, did get us thinking about the relationship between wedding ceremonies and the US economy. Online estimates of wedding costs run from $25,000 – $35,000, but there’s a large mean-median differential. Half of couples spend less than $15,000, and the rest plunk down a lot more.

Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows marriage in America is, in fact, somewhat cyclical. The data:

  • Between 2005 and 2008, an average of 2.20 million US couples got married annually.
  • This dropped by 5% in 2009, to 2.08 million couples and 2009 was similar at 2.09 million.
  • In 2016 (last data available), there were 2.25 million couples married, the most since 2005.

There is also a secular trend, which actually shows marriage rates in decline over the last 2 decades:

  • In 2000, there were 8.2 marriages per 1,000 Americans.
  • It bottomed at 6.8 marriages per 1,000 in 2009 – 2013.
  • For 2016, there were 6.9 marriages per thousand, a modest increase from the recession years but still nowhere near levels in 2000.

Still, you can’t get divorced unless you are first married, so with declining marriage rates come fewer separations. The data here excludes California and a few other states, but there is enough to see the long-term trends:

  • In 2000, there were 944,000 divorces in the US, or 40% of the number of marriages. This was the equivalent of 4 of every 1,000 Americans.
  • In 2016, divorces totaled 827,261, for 3.2 of every 1,000 Americans.
  • Anecdotal evidence aside, the Great Recession did not seem to cause an outsized number of divorces. These did rise slightly in 2010/2011, from 3.5 per 1,000 in 2009 to 3.6 in each year. The net difference is 32,000 couples, however, which seems like a small number in the context of +90 million US households with more than one person.

Data here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/national_marriage_divorce_rates_00-16.pdf

The most telling statistic on the subject may come from Google searches volume data: US queries for the word “Wedding” peaked over the last 14 years in April 2011 – the month of Prince William’s wedding to Catherine Middleton. Otherwise, American searches on the subject are 50-65% lower than that media-induced high water mark. The 5-year trend line is solidly lower to boot, in line with the CDC data.

See the chart here: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-y&geo=US&q=wedding

In summary, the data shows that marriage is becoming less popular in America. It’s not as dramatic a shift as some might think; the 2016 data shows that well enough. And maybe Meghan and Harry can sell a few people on the idea tonight.

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