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Here comes the debt: How media is changing the way we wed

Published: Thursday, April 24 2014 11:55 p.m. MDT

Maria Vasquez and Brendan Goldblatt, from New York, kiss as they pose for photos on the Observation Deck of New York's Empire State Building, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

When destination-wedding planner Sandy Malone got married in 2004, there was no Pinterest, no Instagram, Facebook was in its infancy and there were few bridal websites to draw from.

Just a decade later, Malone deals with the media’s impact on weddings constantly.

“Pinterest is my worst enemy,” Malone said. “They put down the deposit, everything’s good to go and then they’re on Pinterest, they’re on Instagram. (The bride) then sees the need to add more things and do more stuff. My clients are so plugged into social media that they even have their own hashtags for their guests. There are a lot of things that are growing with the expansion in the media that are feeding the wedding industry.”

According to TheKnot.com, the average cost of a wedding is now $28,427. Not included in The Knot’s study is a new arrival to the wedding scene, unveiled at New York’s W Hotel this winter: A social media concierge at the venue. The price for a perfectly Instagrammed, hashtagged and live-tweeted affair is a cool $3,000; evidence that social media may become as valued as a professional photographer or wedding planner to today’s couples.

In a world where high-cost weddings have the attention of social media, news coverage, advertising and countless reality TV shows, is the media changing the face of weddings, or simply giving audiences what they want?

Elizabeth Fairbanks-Fletcher with the Society for New Communications Research says the media play a big role in telling us what’s normal.

“The Internet specifically makes all that information accessible,” Fairbanks-Fletcher said. “The media coverage of celebrity weddings is now the benchmark for individuals planning their own. Advertising can spur the interest, but reality TV and the Internet create renewable engagement. They all work together to continually fan the flames of interest.”

The media coverage also fans the flames of a business that nets an estimated $80 billion per year.

“Every time some pop star gets married and it’s all over the cover of People Magazine, it inspires more girls to have destination weddings. Just like little girls emulate what they see, so do young women who are watching the stars,” Malone said. “People joke about how the funeral business is the one business that’s always fine. So is the wedding industry. The only difference is there’s a lot more room for potential growth without a plague.”

Brad Wilcox, a sociologist and the director of the National Marriage Project, says that it isn’t just the weddings that have changed — we’ve changed, too.

Wilcox says that since the 1970s and the advent of no-fault divorce, Americans look at marriage with less permanency and couples may compensate with an elaborate wedding.

“Because there’s not much legal protection anymore because of no-fault divorce, it signals that the couple and their family are financially vested in the marriage,” Wilcox said. “In some ways, a big wedding is an exclamation point saying, ‘we understand the fragility of marriage and despite everything, we’re going to get married.’ ”

Beyond the media

There’s research to support Wilcox's claims. A 2010 Pew Research study found that marriage is less common than it once was. In 2008, 52 percent of American adults were married, down from 72 percent in 1960.

Education and class distinction played a major role as well. In 2008, 48 percent of people without a college degree were married, compared to 64 percent of college graduates. In 1960, a college grad was only 4 percent more likely to marry than someone with a high school diploma or less.

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