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This blog is some of my musings on cultural trends + values and how brands can respond to them. 

What do weddings mean?

What do weddings mean?

I recently came across an article in The Atlantic on marriages in the US - at least the marriages of a particular section of the American population. The article, Marriage Has Become a Trophydescribes how marriage for highly educated couples is now no longer the first step into adulthood for many Americans, but the last - the icing on the cake, so to speak. As the medium age for marriage rose to 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men, marriage has become "a celebration of all that two people have already done, unlike a traditional wedding, which was a celebration of what a couple would do in the future." Indeed, for nearly three-fourths of younger people surveyed, marriage should follow financial security while only 55% of older Americans agreed (Gillian 2015).

This trend of marrying later - after moving in together, settling into careers, possibly buying a house or having children - is exacerbated in Scandinavian countries. According to The Atlantic, "the median age at first marriage in Norway is an astounding 39 for men and 38 for women, according to a recent estimate—six to eight years higher than the median age at first childbirth." For many, especially for highly educated couples, having children represents a similar step to adulthood as marriage for Americans - and marriage comes later, as a celebration of a successful and lasting love (Lappegård and Noack, 2015). One woman interviewed in an article on the link between parenthood and cohabitation stated that "If you want to have a wedding but are unable to afford it, having a child can be an alternative way of symbolizing that you are an adult and responsible person" (quoted in Lappegård and Noack)

Here, marriage and childbearing take on different meanings in relation to different cultures. Social rituals like weddings, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies, and births are always in flux, responding to the needs, expectations, and values of a society. This makes sense - rituals have a goal: to use Victor Turner’s phrasing, they are “a mechanism that periodically converts the obligatory into the desirable” (1974). They present and reinforce world views. It should be no surprise then that even though the weddings of college educated couples and Scandinavian couples share much of the same paraphernalia and motions [1], they represent different stages of life. What is considered desirable for each group of highly educated couples differs in relation to what society expects. Within the Norwegian context, there is an increased detraditionalization of personal life and increased individualization with the result that "pure" relationships (Gidddens 1992) or "liquid love" (Bauman 2003) are seen as desirable means of maintaining independence within a relationship. 

So what does this mean for marketers? It tells us that we should consider the symbolic meaning of the ritual for the people involved - a symbolism that changes constantly as culture adapts and different values come to the fore. While brides and grooms may adopt the poses and outfits of earlier generations, they do so with a different intent. Failing to acknowledge the real reason behind a ritual - in this case, solidifying a relationship or one's role as an adult - means failing to really resonate with consumers. 

 

[1] Indeed, American-style ceremonies and receptions are growing increasingly dominant in Norway and Sweden, with the result of skyrocketing wedding budgets. 

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