The economic burden of lavish weddings

Why some individuals stretch beyond their financial means for non-mandatory events

The economic burden of lavish weddings


s December ushers in a chill across the country, many Pakistanis find themselves in a flurry of wedding festivities. Nighttime travel reveals a picturesque scene — beautifully decorated cars ferrying newlyweds-to-be while marriage halls shimmer with cascading lights and resonate tunes from trumpeting bands welcoming the groom and his family.

Growing up, I’ve witnessed not just a consistent surge in the scale of marriage celebrations but also a noticeable trend towards ever-increasing extravagant events.

The staggering wealth poured into weddings in Pakistan vividly accentuates the glaring income disparities in the social strata. This opulent exhibition of riches is epitomised by an elaborate sequence of wedding ceremonies.

Traditionally confined to the baraat and valima, these celebrations have evolved, now including three or four additional gatherings. Furthermore, the assimilation of some Western customs, notably bridal showers, has steadily seeped into the fabric of these festivities, consequently inflating the already high wedding expenses.

From elongated days of makeup sessions to lavish wedding attire, extravagant catering, and numerous other expenditures, these events significantly contribute to the burgeoning wedding bills.

In pondering this conspicuous splurge, questions emerge: what purpose lies behind this excessive spending? Why do some individuals stretch beyond their financial means for non-mandatory events? Is the institution of marriage transforming into a marker of societal status, where the magnitude of expenditure signals one’s standing in the societal hierarchy?

In her book, Big Capital in an Unequal World, Dr Rosita sheds light on the paradox of weddings in Pakistan, revealing the staggering cost of a woman’s guest attire, ranging from $600 to $1,800. Such expenses appear starkly disproportionate in a nation grappling with economic turmoil and limited opportunities.

Despite being an Australian visitor conducting research in Pakistan, she received explicit instructions against wearing the same attire within a similar social setting. Additionally, after donning a dress from a designer boutique, Dr Rosita experienced a perceptible shift in her social reception. Her attire seemingly granted her an elevated status and newfound popularity as fellow guests subtly acknowledged her upgraded standing.

This occurrence highlights a troubling trend where clothing not only signifies one’s fashion but also serves as a tacit marker of societal acceptance and prestige.

As individuals show readiness to splurge on these momentous events, it’s no surprise that industries and services connected to weddings are substantially hiking their prices, capitalising on the willingness of potential customers to spend generously. Whether it is dresses or makeup appointments, the costs have risen to inexplicable levels. The profit margins defy reason.

Fuelled by the lucrative nature of the market, there’s a noticeable surge nationwide in new brands and designers catering specifically to weddings.

Buyers’ behaviour stands out as a striking irony in this scenario. It’s a common sight to witness individuals spending on extravagant dresses, asserting, “I’ll shine as brightly as the bride herself.” Yet, some of these same buyers condemn these brands for their high prices, advocating boycotts. Whether driven by hypocrisy or oversight, this contradiction exposes the prevalent double standards.

Despite acknowledging brand exploitation, many overlook the initial step of dissent—refraining from purchasing these items. It’s crucial for citizens to recognise their power in shaping brand success. If a majority abstained from buying from outlets with unjustifiable rates, it would compel these establishments to reassess costs and forgo excessive profits to stay competitive. However, despite their influence, buyers often perpetuate a cycle of pursuing luxury and status, inadvertently supporting the practices they oppose.

Governments have long sought to address social class disparities through legislation aimed at streamlining weddings. In the Punjab, two key reforms were introduced: the implementation of a one-dish policy and restrictions on event duration.

The one-dish policy aimed to standardise meals for all families, diminishing the extravagance linked to diverse cuisines, thus reducing catering costs and societal pressure. The limits on event duration aimed to curb late-night celebrations, discouraging excessive entertainment. However, instead of embracing these reforms for collective benefit, many in Pakistan sought ways to bypass regulations.

Despite the persistence of these rules, a new trend emerged: an increase in dish variety served, coupled with a preference for farmhouse venues. These farm settings provide a loophole, enabling families to avoid restrictions on traditional marriage halls and facilitating conspicuous displays of wealth contrary to the regulations’ intended purpose.

Marriage, revered as the union that unites families, unexpectedly fosters a burden of financial strain. Parents, well aware of the substantial costs entailed in extravagant weddings, often initiate preparations for this significant event from their children’s earliest years. However, this preparation, especially concerning girls, inadvertently instills a sense of burden as children witness their parents acquiring and storing gifts for their future matches.

This cultural practice extends beyond immediate families, with gifts exchanged among relatives, a practice that appears illogical. This financial strain often forces parents into a distressing choice between investing in their children’s education or financing their weddings, with the latter typically taking precedence despite the enduring value of education.

When did burdening oneself with debt and exhausting all resources for children’s weddings become the norm? Frequently, people cite religious justifications, yet Islam emphasises simplicity over extravagance. Many customs, ceremonies and traditions aren’t religious but cultural, making their unquestioned acceptance even more perplexing and confounding.

However, amidst these challenges, some hopeful signs suggest a potential for change. There’s a growing acknowledgment among many that the practice of dowry is unacceptable, leading families to refrain from demanding it from the potential bride’s family.

Furthermore, a segment of the population opts for a simpler wedding approach, focusing on a modest nikah ceremony followed by a minimal event. These approaches signify a departure from entrenched cultural norms, offering hope in an era where excessive spending on weddings dominates.

As this cycle of excessive spending and societal appeasement persists, breaking free from this pattern is imperative. Rather than succumbing to societal pressures and financial strains, prioritising personal comfort and convenience should take precedence. The current model of extravagant weddings needs to be revised, particularly for those seeking to avoid judgment solely based on their financial capacity.

Society urgently needs to embrace the idea that modest weddings not only benefit the majority but also foster a more enjoyable and inclusive celebration for all. It’s time for a collective awakening to the joy and fulfillment found in simplicity, steering away from the burdensome expectations of flaunted wealth. For us and many others, the aspiration for a modest wedding is a testament to this desire to shift towards meaningful celebrations that prioritise connection and happiness over societal validation.

The writer is an aspiring urban economist. He recently completed a master’s degree in urban economic development from University College, London. He is also the cofounder of HamSukhan, a community-based learning platform

The economic burden of lavish weddings