Things I learn from Faulkner

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, three hundred dollars would buy you a really good mule.  The men in Faulkner’s stories are always swapping mules for a figure around $300.  I have gotten the impression that these men are much more confident that their mule is worth $300 than they are that their wife is worth that much–no offense to the wife.

Nowadays, nobody knows what to do with a mule, much less what it’s worth, and the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is approaching $30,000, a good deal more of which is paid by the groom than in years past.


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9 Responses to Things I learn from Faulkner

  1. Heidi says:

    Sort of unrelated to this comment, but I kept hearing this $30,000 number in all the wedding magazines and websites and newspapers, and I thought, “wow that’s a lot of money that we don’t have and can’t spend…” My dad found an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal about how inaccurate the $30,000 number may be and how we ended up thinking that was “the number.”

    We’re not spending even close to that much money and we’re having a pretty traditional wedding in a big church with a sit-down dinner at the reception… the usual. There are a lot of statistical problems with how someone got that number and started telling everyone that’s how much you have to spend for a nice wedding.

    Anyway, I thought it was interesting 🙂 Also, I drove past your old houses Friday, reminded me of junior high. My mom also judged all-state this weekend. These comments were probably better suited for an email than public blog. Oh well 🙂

  2. fustianist says:

    I have wondered about this number. If it’s accurate, then I assume there are a few people in the country making up for the weddings of everyone I know 🙂 We need to know what kind of average we’re talking about here: mean? median? mode? I’m guessing there is something of an exponential curve going on here: most people are in the lower range, and then there are a few with the money and peer pressure to venture out further on the graph, where what would be a $300 flower bill elsewhere is $30,000 because it’s from Name X or because there are only five of that flower in the world, etc. Reading the New York Times “celebrations” section has helped me see where those people might be.

    I get a kick out of articles that list the “average” wedding expenses, though, because as I reel off the list of “necessities” I get to see Sydney turn various shades of red and green as he’s alternately outraged (open bar tab) and disgusted (hair and makeup, home video–not Sydney’s thing).

    I also occasionally try to make use of these statistics. If, as it happens, I have foregone the (average national price) $4000 for an engagement ring, then does it mean that in all fairness Sydney owes me $4000 in books and strawberries? 🙂

    When we were planning our wedding in New Haven, Sydney flipped through a “plan your wedding” special section of the local newspaper. I got a shy query: “Um, Erin, were you intending to spend $500 on a hairstylist for the day of the wedding?” Considering that that was more than either of us had in the bank at that time, I could see he was trying not to panic, both at the thought of the cash and at the thought of trying to talk me out of it without me crying. I was happy to reassure him on that front; I was just hoping for a haircut sometime before the end of the summer! But even Sydney, with all his confidence that we were on the same page for our wedding, was thrown off by reading about what was “normal” for a wedding–something to keep in mind.


  3. fustianist says:


    My mom called me this weekend to tell me it was the weekend for All-State tryouts. I immediately felt that I should be in Iowa, desperately trying to avoid sweaty palms before attacking scary-looking page of clarinet music!

    By the way, I will always be grateful to your mom for taking me aside before spring solo/ensemble contest and helping me prepare my vocal pieces. Knowing that a professional had knocked some edges off really helped me go into it with confidence. Tell her thank you for me, will you?


  4. fustianist says:

    I have to get in on this. Showing how people are wrong about numbers is so one of my favourite activities.

    As a general rule, reports of statistics in the media should be distrusted, since most writers seem to be innumerate. If we’re talking about the same Wall Street Journal article (by Biliak), though, it’s not clear to me how much evidence there is for thinking the standard number inaccurate. Bialik’s main point seems to be that the number is misleading even if perfectly accurate, i.e., he points out that a median is more relevant in this case than a mean. I think that’s exactly right. On the other hand, when I heard that the average wedding costs $30,000, I assumed that what was meant was a mean since I take it that is what most people have in mind when they use the term ‘average’. Or am I wrong about that? When you hear the word ‘average’, do you immediately think of a mean, a median, a mode, or do you think the term ambiguous? Anyway, if we interpret ‘average’ here as ‘mean’, which strikes me as reasonable, it seems that the $30,000 figure might actually be accurate — just not as interesting as it might have been.

    Of course, Biliak does also suggest that the survey sample may be skewed. That may well be true, though he doesn’t actually cite any other survey data to back up that charge. I take it the idea is that the people with really inexpensive weddings aren’t likely to have participated in these surveys done by the wedding industry. Fair point. Erin and I could serve as an example. But here’s one reason for thinking that the mean would stay the same even if we had a random sample: perhaps the celebrities and so forth with their outlandishly expensive weddings are also not participating in these surveys. And, as Bialik himself points out, these would be precisely the weddings that would skew a mean upwards. And of course make it even more the case that the number we’re really interested in is the median.

    Here’s another reason, though, for wondering how precise these figures are. One of the pieces that I read that talked about how average weddings cost $30,000 also said that the wedding industry in the U.S. is worth $161 billion per year. There are 2.2-2.5 million weddings each year. So, doing the math, we get $64,400 to $73,182 per wedding. So now we have an even higher figure. But obviously something is amiss somewhere.


  5. fustianist says:

    (I, like many women, secretly spent about $50,000 more than I told my husband, and then will spend the rest of my life paying for it when I say I’m buying “shoes.” Maybe the husbands are exactly right when they say we don’t need all those shoes; they’re right, we don’t!).

    That would explain the difference, wouldn’t it? 🙂


  6. Heidi says:

    As you can tell from the date on the article, my dad sent it to me awhile ago. My limited recollection of the article was that the only people who have any interest in publishing these statistics are wedding websites, and that these random surveys on said websites are not representative of the entire population.

    Obviously there is a better discussion of median as a different indicator than mode. I simply hadn’t read the article in awhile.

  7. Lisa says:

    I think the price of a wedding varies a lot by location. A wedding in NYC (home of the NY Times) would be considerably more expensive than a comparable one in New Haven (or Iowa, or most of the country). I imagine the people surveyed about this are probably wedding planners (not brides) and they only handle the over-$XXX range weddings, not ones done on the cheap, so that might also skew results (and cause them to include multi-million dollar celebrity shindigs). Just a thought.

    – L

  8. fustianist says:

    As it happens, the studies do survey brides, not the wedding planners. It is perhaps also worth noting that it looks like three recent studies all got results that were pretty close to each other. The mean ranged from $27,400 to $28,800 between the three (with the more interesting median being around $15,000). But it is undoubtedly clear that the surveys did not get a random sample. The question, of course, is whether that sample bias skewed the results and, if so, in which direction and how much.

    And, yes, I imagine weddings in NYC are a great deal more expensive than weddings in Iowa — for more reasons than one.


  9. Mother of the bride says:

    Means and medians aside, I occasionally watch Bridzilla on cable (maybe 5 minutes, max), simply so see how utterly silly and immature people can act. A significant cost is the dress – not two or three thousand (and certainly not a couple of hundred), but well over ten thousand. The wedding business has become quite the ‘cottage’ industry. And – it’s all about one upping one another – more flowers – to say nothing of how exotic – exclusive cake design, professional makeup, haircuts, nails – feet and hands, etc., etc., ad nauseam…

    THANKFULLY I had somehow conveyed the idea of a small wedding to my daughter before a prospective groom entered the picture.

    Speaking of Iowa weddings – a few years ago one of the local affluent families spent hundreds of thousands for their daughter’s wedding – very large guest list, very expensive liquors, rented tents that would put some houses to shame, and foods I can’t pronounce…it ranked right up there in the excessive category.

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