Weddings: Stats, Trends & Budgets

Is the global wedding industry, estimated to be worth $298 billion* on the rise or declining?

The following statistics, trends and wedding budgets reveal some interesting facts. By Des Langkilde.

Considering that the average marriage age in South Africa is 29 for brides and 33 for grooms, would the millennial generation, estimated to be in the region of 5 million** be likely to get married soon?

Five million seems like an impressive number right? It just shows how stats can be deceiving, because just over 163,000 marriages were registered in South Africa in 2013, so a realistic estimate would probably be around 4% of millennials turning 29-33 in 2015 were likely to get married – that’s around 100,000 couples.

Is the wedding industry rising or declining?

To find the answer, I turned to Spier Wine Farm for their view. “Spier has always been a favourite venue for weddings in the Cape, given our accessible location in Stellenbosch, our diverse facilities and wholesome catering options,” said Angela Lorimer, the head of conferencing and eventing at Spier. “We have noticed a change in wedding trends but not a decline in the number of weddings hosted at the farm over the years.”

Angela’s observation is borne out by Christa Badenhorst, Marketing Manager at Guvon Hotels & Spas, who said; “The Millennial generation is a new breed of easy-going, techno-savvy kids, and we are seeing a shift in trends, so unless we spruce up our offering, we may just lose their interest.”

So what do the statistics reveal?


According to a report*** from Statistics South Africa, which looks at trends in happy beginnings and unhappy endings, these are some of the key findings:

1. A total of 163,133 marriages registered in 2013. Civil marriages: 158,642, Customary marriages: 3,498, and Civil unions: 993.

2. Marriages on the decline. The 2013 figure of 158,642 civil marriages shows a decrease of 1,5% from the 161,112 marriages recorded in 2012. In 2013, the crude civil marriage rate was 3,0 per 1,000 estimated resident population. During the period 2003 to 2013, the highest number of marriages was recorded in 2008 (186,522) and the lowest number in 2013 (158,642).

3. Religious ceremonies also declining. More than half, 84,702 (53,4%) of the 158,642 marriages were solemnised by DHA (civil) marriage officers and 47,748 (30,1%) by ‘Religious’ rites.

4. Gauteng had the highest number of marriages at 36,407 (23,0%) and Northern Cape the lowest at 4,763 (3,0%). North West (76,9%) had the highest proportion of marriages solemnised by civil marriage officers whereas Western Cape recorded the highest proportion (49,9%) of marriages solemnised by religious marriage officers.

5. First-timers lead. The majority of civil marriages involved first-time brides and bridegrooms. The highest number of these marriages between people giving matrimony a bash for the first time were recorded in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

6. Increasing ages and age gaps between couples. For both bridegrooms and brides, median ages at the time of customary marriages increased gradually over time. Median ages of bridegrooms increased from 31 years in 2009 to 33 years in 2013 and those for brides increased from 25 years to 29 years during the same period. Bridegrooms were generally older than brides, with an age difference of about five to six years for customary marriages registered between 2009 and 2013.

7. Minors – more brides than grooms. Minors can’t get married without a range of permissions, including from the Minister of Home Affairs. Boys must be 18 or older and girls 16 or older to get married without jumping through these hoops of approval and permission. In 2013, Stats SA found, the marriages of 14 bridegrooms and 172 brides younger than 18 were registered.

8. Customary marriages declining – from 20,301 in 2004 to just 3,498 in 2013. Most couples, though, don’t register their customary marriage in the same year the ceremony is performed, so the figures can be deceptive.

9. Civil unions increasing – with 993 registered in 2013 – an increase of 30,65% from 760 in 2009. Civil unions most often involve same-sex couples, and the highest number (411) were recorded in Gauteng, followed by 320 in the Western Cape. Civil unions are unpopular in Limpopo (only 6 registered), North West (10), and Mpumalanga (16).

10. Most popular wedding months: September and December are the most popular months for marriages, although Easter (either March or April) is also popular.

11. Divorces increasing. While marriage rates are dropping, divorces is climbing. In 2013, 23,885 divorces were completed and registered, up by 8.6% from 21,998 in 2012. During the decade under review, 2005 was a really bad year for marriage: 32,484 divorces were recorded.

12. Wives initiate divorce. More wives (12,083, or 50.6%) than husbands (8,014 or 33.5%) initiate divorces. White women were most likely to file for divorce and black women least likely in the cases where the plaintiff’s sex was specified.

13. More civil than religious divorces. By way of marriage solemnisation, 4,499 (18/8%) of divorces were from religious rites, compared to 18,371 (76,9%) by ‘civil’ rites.

It’s interesting to note that not all marriages are registered in South Africa, as some are not recognised by law. The three types of marriages that are recognised by law are civil marriages, customary marriages and civil unions. Marriages concluded in accordance with Hindu, Islamic or other religious rites are excluded in the statistics.



According to a 2014 Real Weddings Study (for the USA) released by the top wedding trends in 2014 were:

USING SMARTPHONES FOR PLANNING. Couples are researching everything from gowns to vendors on mobile applications. In 2014, the use of smartphones to access wedding planning websites has nearly doubled from 2011 (33%) to 2014 (61%).

PERSONALISATION ON THE RISE, INCLUDING CHANGES IN VENUES. Couples are showing their unique style by choosing unexpected places to wed. Since 2009, historic buildings/homes and farm venues have grown in popularity. Historic buildings/homes made up 14% in 2014, compared with only 12% in 2009, and farms make up 6% in 2014, up from 3% in 2009. While banquet halls (22%), country clubs (11%) and hotels (11%) are still popular options for couples, about 40% are looking for unusual venues that better reflect their personality.

COUPLES SPENDING MORE ON RECEPTION ELEMENTS, AND LESS ON CEREMONY. Spending is on the rise across reception categories, and couples are spending more on their catering, musicians and cake in 2014. Spending for cocktail hours also rose to 76% from 69% in 2010. Couples are spending less on the ceremony. In 2014, 33% of couples hired pianists and organists for their ceremony, down from 49% in 2009, and 28% of couples held their ceremony in a religious institution, down from 41% in 2009.

WITH ALMOST HALF OF COUPLES GOING OVER BUDGET, WHO PAYS FOR THE WEDDING? On average, the bride’s parents contribute 43%, the bride and groom contribute 43%, and the groom’s parents contribute 12% of the total wedding budget (others account for the remaining 2%). Only 12% of couples pay for the wedding entirely themselves. In 2014, 45% of couples went over budget, about 1 in 4 (26%) of couples stayed within their budget.

BUSY LIVES MEANS SAVING THE DATE. More couples are using save-the-dates. The percentage of couples who used save-the-dates was 75% in 2014, compared with 72% in 2013 and 57% in 2009. In 2014, 50% of couples had their save-the-dates professionally made, up from 29% in 2009.



The aforementioned ‘Real Weddings Study’ indicates the average wedding budget (for the USA) at $31,213 (R372,734) excluding the honeymoon, of which $14,006 (R167,256) is allocated to the venue (reception hall). The most expensive city for a wedding in the USA is listed as Manhattan, New York at $76,328 (R911,476), while the least expensive is Utah at $15,267 (R182,312).

According to Hannes Loubser, wedding specialist at Spier Wine Farm, the average size of a designer wedding in South Africa is between 80 to 100 guests, with most of these groups coming from overseas, specifically the UK, USA, Europe and Australia. According to the study, the average number of guests at USA weddings is 136.

Considering the currency exchange rate between the South African rand and the US dollar at nearly 12:1 (at the time of writing this article in May 2015), I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare the cost of an average wedding in the table below.


Assuming that my comparative cost estimates for an upmarket wedding are reasonably accurate, a wedding would be 36.65% more cost effective in South Africa than it would be in the USA.

Of course the entire wedding party would need to fly out to South Africa and be accommodated, which would blow the $15,000 budget saving to bring the bridal party across, but what a memorable wedding it would be!



Let’s assume that marriages in South Africa continue to decline at 1,5% per annum, and ignore the 5 million millennials turning 29-33 in 2015 – we’d end up with 160,686 bridal couples in 2014 and 158,275 in 2015. Taking the average budget spend (per my $ vs ZAR analysis) of R308,440, this would equate to a 2015 South African up-market wedding value in excess of R48 billion!

Certainly still a lucrative market for wedding planners and venues!

Now look at the trends. With personalisation on the rise and couples spending more on reception elements, and less on the ceremony, there are opportunities to capitalise on these trends given South Africa’s diversity of wedding locations, venues, diamonds and gold.

My observation is borne out by Spier: “We’ve seen a noticeable trend in bridal couples opting for outdoor ceremonies, with unusual reception decor requests. There is definitely a trend away from the traditional religious wedding ceremony,” said Angela.

If there’s one takeaway from all this, it’s that nearly 60 per cent of brides use their smartphones for wedding planning, so if you want to reach them, your site better be mobile-friendly!

* Source
** Source: Age and sex distribution – South African National Census of 2011 – 25-29 year age group, turning 29-33 in 2015.
*** Marriages and Divorces, 2014 – released 30 April 2015.

Spier Wine Farm images courtesy of Jo Stokes photography

PS. I’m sure that professional wedding organisers would like to contend the assumptions that I’ve made in this article, so please pop me an email to [email protected], and I’ll update this post with your comments.


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