06/28/2011 - Articles

Senior Weddings

By: Fathali M. Moghaddam, PhD


It used to be thought that when an older couple "tied the knot" they should have a quiet, small ceremony. But it's perfectly reasonable to ask, "Why shouldn't seniors have a big fat wedding?" Dr Ali Moghaddam discusses senior matrimony in his latest article.

Should Seniors Have Big Weddings?

Is It Wrong For A Grand-Mother To Have A Bigger Wedding Than Her Own Grand-Daughter?

Is Anyone Ever 'Too Old' To Get Married?

"Guess what, I'm completely baffled. I really don't know what I'm supposed to do."

"Well it's not easy, we don't have any guidelines."

"No guides at all. It's not as if this happens every day."

"But you can bet it's going to happen more and more now."

"Things have changed, that's for sure. But what do we do for this time?"

"Well they are having a big wedding, so I think it's only right that we take them a fairly serious present."

"Yes, but do you think it's right for them to have a big wedding? They've both been married before and they're both over seventy now."

"That's true, but why shouldn't seniors have big weddings? What's wrong with that?"

"What's right with it? They've both got grand-children who are getting married soon, are they supposed to have weddings bigger then their own grand-children?"

"Why not? What's age got to do with it? Maybe they couldn't afford to have a big wedding when they were younger, so now they want to make up for it."

"Yes, I've heard of couples having a big second wedding to re-new their marital vows, but that's different, that's with the same person."

"But the principle is the same."

"No it isn't."

"Of course it is."

"No it isn't! Hey, wait! You are supposed to help me think of a good present for them, not get into an argument with me."

"Alright, come on then, let's see what we can find at the mall..."

This lively discussion between two seniors highlights the current controversy about senior weddings: What kind of a wedding should seniors have when they get married? Traditional norms did not encourage seniors to get married. Seniors who did get married were expected to have quite, reserved ceremonies.

But this trend has been changing in recent years. Romance and marriage are no longer thought to be exclusively for young people. Why shouldn't seniors enjoy romance? What's to stop seniors having big wedding celebrations?

In Line With the General Trend

In the United States people now spend an average of about twenty-two thousand dollars when they get married. The divorce rate for first marriages is about 50%, but there is a strong trend for divorced individuals to re-marry - and to have just as big or even bigger celebration for their second (and even third and fourth) weddings. Despite the high divorce rate, which is even higher for second marriages than it is for first marriages, people are willing to splash out and spend a lot of money on wedding celebrations. People getting married for the second or third time have been having larger and more elaborate weddings. In line with these general trends, seniors who get married are also more willing to hold larger wedding ceremonies.

There are a number of possible benefits to having larger, more costly weddings, particularly when the costs are emotional as well (going through the problems of arranging a large wedding celebration can be traumatic!). A solid body of psychological research suggests that when a person invests heavily in a relationship and undergoes difficult 'initiation' ceremonies to get into a 'group' (thinking of marriage as a kind of small group), then this person will show more loyalty to the group. The things that prove difficult to get are often valued highly, "After all, I made all that effort to get into this marriage - it must be because it is such a wonderful thing!"

Of course, a simple reason to hold wedding celebrations is to enjoy oneself and to start married life in a super positive spirit. But there are also complications that are associated with senior marriage.

Family Complications

The stereotype we have of a newly married couple is two young people starting life together, typically with little financial resources but also with no family responsibilities. According to this stereotype, the young couple is faced with the challenge of working hard to buy a home, bring children into the world, and raise a family. The family responsibilities of the couple grow together, as do their financial resources.

But senior marriage is typically the opposite of this stereotype. Seniors getting married typically already have children and even grand-children, so they enter marriage with a lot of family ties and responsibilities. Also, seniors getting married already have separate financial histories and responsibilities, and many complications can arise if they try to combine their finances.

One way to cope with this challenge is to have a pre-nuptial agreement (that is, a legal contract concerning financial arrangements of the persons in the marriage). Such agreements are becoming more common because in many cases the individuals getting married already have separate and complicated financial affairs and commitments. For example, there may be commitments to children and grand-children, such as helping them with their education costs, which the other partner doesn't want to become entangled in.

"Why can't we live in MY house after we're married?"

Another major way in which senior marriage is very different from young people getting married is that seniors typically have a life-time of furniture and equipment, and deciding how to combine the belongings of two seniors to make one home can be challenging. This challenge is even more difficult when both seniors already live in a home that they like, and neither is really enthusiastic about giving up their home. Both of them ask, "Why can't we live in MY house after we marry?" Of course, one solution is for both of them to move and to share a new residence.

Benefits of Senior Marriage

In the final analysis, the key factor is not how a couple celebrates their wedding, because simply getting married brings benefits. Research evidence strongly suggests that married people are happier and less likely to suffer depression. It used to be thought that males benefit more from marriage, but when the evidence of surveys across different countries is considered together, the married vs. unmarried happiness gap between women and men disappears (see Inglehart, R.1990. Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton University Press).

As a general rule, both women and men enjoy important psychological health benefits from being married, and this is true across different ethnic groups (see Parker, K. D., Ortega, S. T., & VanLaningham, J. 1995. Life satisfaction, self-esteem, and personal happiness among Mexican and African Americans. Sociological Spectrum, 15, 131-145). Consequently, irrespective of how they are celebrated, weddings generally lead to good things - why shouldn't seniors share this benefit?


Created on: 05/20/2003
Reviewed on: 06/28/2011

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