Do fairytale weddings really mean an unhappy ending? | Zoe Williams

There are some general rules around surprising surveys, such as: when a result isn’t what you’d expect, it’s often because the question was posed in a peculiar way, or the conclusion has taken an unreasonable leap. Then there are some specific rules, such as: if you want to know the truth about what makes a marriage last, don’t necessarily go first to a thinktank that is avowedly pro-marriage – maybe try a more neutral source. These rules collided, or should have done, at the weekend, when the Marriage Foundation announced that couples who had really expensive weddings were less likely to stay together than those who did it on the cheap. One in 10 marriages that cost over £20,000 had ended within three years. So, some people, at least, have escaped the sunk cost fallacy.

Marriage and divorce experts were quick to comment: it was surely down to the fairytale expectation that £20,000 creates. After that much white tulle and the delightful country house, the brutal reality of life in athleisure, and a not-country house, was too much to take. And it brings a certain narratorial satisfaction: anyone who blows a fortune on a single day must surely be shallow, and incapable of doing dreary or lasting work.

But the Marriage Foundation is missing something major, here, which is weird because it comes from their own research: second marriages are more likely to last than the first ones, with 31% ending in divorce against 45%. If there’s one thing all second marriages have in common, it’s not the age and definitely not the wisdom of the participants, but rather, that they’re definitely, positively still skint from the dissolution of the first marriage. So they can’t have a massive, meringue-style wedding, and their no-frills, pay-bar nuptials have skewed the data. This is how to make a marriage last – not with small economies, but by taking the precaution of a previous, failed marriage.