Wedding Tips From An Economist

Enrique Peña Nieto, Angelica Rivera
Marco Ugarte/AP

Over at Marginal Revolution, the economist Tyler Cowen answers a reader's request for wedding tips. Here's some of his advice, along with our explanation of the econ jargon Cowen playfully throws around.

1. How to stick to the budget

The purchases are a classic Hansonian "showing that you care" problem and the capitalist suppliers are not on your side.

In other words: There's pressure to spend a lot on the wedding, to show the world how important the wedding is to you. The people in the wedding business know this, and take advantage of it.

("Hansonian" refers to the economist Robin Hanson, who has written about how social pressure to show the world you care affects the way people spend money on health care, among other things.)

Cowen's advice:

Early, up front, do something to show that you don't care. Buy a cheap paper cup. Relish the feeling. Accept it. Celebrate it. Then let the other person see you still care.

2. How to whittle down the guest list

Refuse to accept the intransitivity of indifference: "If we invite Uncle Fester, we surely can't turn down Auntie Mame," etc.

"Intransitivity of indifference" is an idea about how people choose among a number of options. In particular, what happens when:

  • You don't have a preference between A and B.
  • You don't have a preference between B and C.
  • You prefer A to C.

The answer here: Make a ranked list of who you want to invite. In the case above, A would be first on the list, B would be second and C would be third.

3. How to get along with your future spouse

Non-contractibility is a bigger problem than you think. You can agree on the number of people, and the amount you will spend on flowers, but ex post many questions will pop up at the margin.

In other words, you and your future husband or wife can sit down at the beginning and try to agree on everything about the wedding. But there's no way you will think of everything. You'll still have to resolve tons of wedding details on the fly. And those unanticipated details can cause pre-marital friction.

Cowen's advice: Agree in advance on a system for resolving planning-related conflicts that will inevitably arise.

Contract in advance for a method of disagreement resolution, not just on the details of the wedding.

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