Purpose of weddings: Wealth transfer?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of weddings, and I think I’ve thought my way into reconciling the fact that M and I can’t afford our wedding – my dad gifted us the funds for it. I tend to strongly align myself with the “if you can’t pay for it yourself, you can’t have it” camp, so this new perspective comes somewhat as a surprise to me.

Modern western family economics is based on a premise of independence. Once we’re officially adult (say, 21? 18?), the ideal out there is that we’re supposed to be completely self-sufficient. And I pretty much buy into this ideal. Except, it turns out, I also think it’s a kind of screwed up model.

If I want to have a kid or two (I do), and I want to raise them in a house and generally give them things that kids should have, the way things work these days is that I’ll need to take on a mortgage that could take decades to pay off. Meanwhile, raise your hand if your boomer parents live alone or with their partner, in a 3 bedroom house that is bigger than the one you’ll get when you finally finish scraping a house deposit together. I mean, does this make sense? The point at which I’ll have what I need to raise a kid will be the point at which the kid is an adult themself.

Back when the global economy was still growing, there was some logic to the model. Each generation could expect to make more money than the one before them. But now that the global economy is screwed* and contracting, the days of doing better than your parents, as a generation, have ended. The boomers are probably the most economically lucky generation that will ever have existed (cue any boomer reading this to start griping about how tough they had it in their 20s).

So, back to weddings. When my dad married my mom, he lived with his parents until his wedding day. Getting married was a major marker of entering adulthood. And part of the function of weddings those days was for the community to help the couple set up their new household, by giving them gifts of basic necessary household stuff. I think some kind of ceremonial marker of adulthood, in which the new adult is given economic help, makes a lot of sense. That this takes the form of a wedding, of course, is not fair (assumes everyone gets married; assumes everyone gets married at a convenient youngish age).

These days, marriage and weddings are different. I’ve been independent from my parents for years. I’ve been living with M for years. People are asking us what they can get us as wedding presents, because giving us kitchen appliances and such makes no sense. But man, how useful would have been, when I was say 22, if there was some kind of big celebration that involved the people who could afford it giving me a few sheets and a blender? Young people still need help, and probably we need it more than our parents did, but the cultural mechanism for a bit of inter-generational wealth transfer has disappeared.

All of which is to say, I now feel better about the fact that almost everyone I know is getting parental help to pay for their wedding. It goes against the independence ideal which is the backbone of all personal finance advice, but maybe that’s ok. It doesn’t excuse the decadence of the average wedding though. Seriously, if you need financial help and your parents are providing it, that money needs to be going towards a house deposit fund, or paying off student loans, or some other thing that affects long term net wealth. Weddings are still a consumption item.

*In my opinion, the global economy is going to stay screwed. But some people think it’s going to turn around. Dog knows that’s a massive debate that will go on forever. For now, I’m not interested in having that debate on my blog.


2 responses to “Purpose of weddings: Wealth transfer?

  1. We don’t need their help for the wedding, but they are helping us. Although they’re contributing with stuff like champagne, which honestly, if they weren’t buying it for us, we just wouldn’t have it at the wedding, period.
    And I also believe the economy won’t bounce back to the way things were. Also, the not being able to live like your parents? It kills me. Granted, my parents live pretty well, but I know I won’t be able to afford taking my kids for 6-10 weeks to the US every summer (my dad worked while we were there, but still, no way we’ll be able to do that).

  2. We could also probably manage without them, but they were pretty keen to contribute! It seems to be important to our parents, which is ok by me, but not what I had imagined. It’s hard to get your head around test things!

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