I do or don't: Surveying Americans on wedding etiquette

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
November 22, 2023, 5:00 PM GMT+0

Modern weddings are complex affairs, in terms of money, time, and social conventions. New polling by YouGov finds that many Americans view certain behaviors — by guests and, to a lesser extent, the people getting married — to be unacceptable at weddings. Most people — especially older Americans — believe that couples today spend too much money getting married, and a significant share say they spend too much time on wedding planning.

Wedding-guest dos and don'ts

Most Americans have an opinion on how people invited to weddings should respond to invitations, whom they can bring, what they should wear, and how they ought to behave at the event.

By a large margin (80% to 10%), Americans believe it's always or usually inappropriate for a potential guest to not respond to a wedding invitation. By a much narrower margin of 47% to 38%, they say that declining an invitation without a reason is always or usually appropriate.

When it comes to wedding-guest attire, most Americans say it's inappropriate to wear white (59%). Even more say it's inappropriate to wear an outfit that is more extravagant than the couple's (77%) or to dress casually despite a formal dress code (79%).

About three-quarters of Americans disapprove of the following actions by a wedding guest: getting drunk (74%), making a speech without the couple's prior approval (74%), or proposing to their own partner during the wedding (72%).

One reason that clashes may occur at weddings is that not everyone agrees on the social conventions. There are large differences by age and gender in opinions on what is appropriate. The gap between younger men (ages 18 to 44) and older women (ages 45 and older) is particularly notable; younger women's and older men's opinions are in the middle of these two groups', and similar to each other.

Older women are 38 percentage points more likely than younger men to say it's inappropriate to wear white to a wedding and they are 29 points more likely to say it's not OK to dress casually despite a formal dress code. They are also significantly more likely to say it's inappropriate not to respond to an invitation or to bring an uninvited guest.

Couple dos and don'ts

Relative to their rigid expectations for guests, Americans perhaps give more leeway to the actions of couples getting married. Just 17% think it is inappropriate for couples to have a no-gift policy. More than twice as many, however, aren't in favor of requesting cash instead of gifts (39%). And while just 39% think it is inappropriate for couples to ask guests to pay for their own travel to a destination wedding, 78% say it is unacceptable to ask guests to pay for their own meal, and 48% say the same about alcohol.

While opinions are somewhat divided, more are OK than not OK with each of the following actions by couples getting married: having their wedding on a weekday, eloping without informing family or friends beforehand, incorporating pets into the ceremony, and not allowing children at the wedding. More say each of the following is inappropriate than appropriate: for the bride to wear a revealing dress, for the couple to not allow single guests to bring a plus-one, or for the couple to host a virtual wedding.

Wedding traditions

Gendered roles are a common feature in many traditions for weddings between men and women, with brides and grooms often playing distinct parts. The survey, which asked about various customs related to relationships between men and women, showed a wide range of opinions. Traditions such as the father-daughter dance and the father of the bride giving her away are highly popular, with 71% and 68% of Americans expressing love or like for these two practices, respectively.

The tradition of the bride vowing to obey her husband, without a similar vow from the groom, is largely unpopular, with 59% saying they dislike or hate it. Americans have mixed reactions to customs including the bride's family paying for most of the wedding and bridal-shower gifts centered around domestic duties. While the practice of a man asking a woman's father for her hand in marriage is viewed positively by 62%, the convention of women but not men wearing engagement rings found less enthusiasm, with just 34% loving to liking it. About half are in favor of each of the traditions of wearing a veil (53%) and of the bride and groom not seeing each other before the ceremony (54%).

Certain traditions are far more unpopular with women than men. Women are 21 points more likely than men to say they dislike or hate the tradition of only brides vowing obedience. They are also more likely than men to oppose the custom of the bride's family paying for most of the wedding (13 points more likely), as well as the tradition of the bride doing most of the planning (9 points more likely).

There is also a large generational gap in women's opinions on engagement rings: 39% of women under 45 but just 18% of women older than 45 dislike or hate the tradition of women but not men wearing engagement rings.

Wedding costs

Modern weddings aren't cheap, and most Americans (60%) believe that vendors — such as florists, photographers, and bakers — typically charge more for weddings than they do for other similar events. And most people who believe there is a wedding premium think it is unfair.

Two-thirds (66%) of Americans say couples today spend too much money on the wedding planning process, and 38% say they spend too much time. Older Americans are especially likely to think couples getting married should reduce how much they spend: 86% of people 65 and older say too much money is spent on weddings today and 48% say too much time is. Significant shares of younger adults say that about the right amount is spent on weddings today. But within each major age group, fewer than 10% say couples aren't spending enough money or time on their weddings.

To find out how Americans think weddings should be funded, we first asked respondents to select who they thought should contribute at least some amount to the financial cost of a wedding between a man and a woman. Most said the couple getting married should contribute (66%), and lesser shares said the parents of the bride (44%) or the parents of the groom (33%) should contribute.

In a follow-up question, people who selected more than one contributor were then asked who should pay the largest amount. The results from that question along with the shares of Americans who say only one group should contribute combine to show that about half of Americans (47%) believe the couple getting married should contribute the largest amount financially to the wedding; 20% think it should be the parents of the bride and 5% think it should be the parents of the groom. Men are 8 points more likely than women to say the bride's family should pay the most, while women are 10 points more likely than men to say the couple themselves should.

— Carl Bialik contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on November 6 - 8, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Unsplash (Leonardo Miranda)