Weddings as Work
You guys, I was stumbling around on the internet looking for something else the other day, and I found something awesome. It’s this sociological study [PDF] by Tamara Sniezek, who teaches at California State University Stanislaus, published in 2005 in the Qualitative Sociology Review that looks at weddings as work—you know, domestic, women’s work. Granted, this study is qualitative, meaning she interviewed only 20 couples (though she took care to choose a sample that’s representative of the general population), but it’s still pretty boss.
Sniezek went ahead and looked at the devision of labor between genders in wedding planning (for heterosexual couples). The reason she says she was looking into this is that sociologists hadn’t before looked at weddings in terms of work or division of labor:
[A] good portion of the work involved in wedding is easily overlooked as it is frequently “invisible” stereotypical women’s work. Wedding planning, for example, involves very similar tasks as routine housework including decorating, making meal choices, shopping and coordinating family schedules (Westlake-Chester 1995; Sniezek 2002). Wedding work, such as arranging airport transportation for guests and stamping invitations is, like housework, taken for granted and seemingly unending (Sniezek 2002).
So she interviewed these 20 couples to see how their perception of this type of work was perceived and how it played out. What she found in this sample of couples was pretty fascinating.
Though couples often aspired to make the wedding “our day” and contribute an equal amount of work, 17 couples reported an unequal division of labor—all of which had women taking on a disproportionate share of the planning. Of the three other couples, who each claimed that work was equal, two in fact had the women performing more wedding-related tasks. In one of those two, the woman was doing twice the work as her fiancée. One bride even hilariously said that because she was keeping track of all the tasks, she made sure the division of labor was equal, apparently unaware that this organizational distribution is also work. Oftentimes, women (and their partners) claimed they took on more wedding work because their jobs were more flexible or that they had a greater interest in wedding planning.
The way that labor broke down was also really interesting:
[E]very couple reported joint involvement in planning work that involved “crucial decision-making.” … the more mundane, behind-the-scenes “leg work” was performed predominately by women. Women, in every case, performed more of the information-gathering work.
Sniezek argues that this is a problem because not only is this yet another area of life where women take on more work that is perceived as less valuable, but because this is often the first major project the couples take on together (about half her sample lived together before tying the knot, about on par with the rate of couples nationally at the time). Thus, she argues:
Wedding work, on the surface, facilitates the construction of the marriage ceremony itself. However, I find that it also maintains ongoing family relationships as wedding work involved caring and kin work that highly resembled family work that married women have long performed. Thus, I believe wedding work serves to prepare women for their future traditional roles. … Couple behavior is creatively and actively shaped through wedding planning, rather than by it. This insight has important implications for the study of family and intimate relationships.
All this might seem obvious. We always talk about how weddings are the “bride’s day.” There isn’t a magazine called Groom. No one asks the groom about colors, decorations, or flower arrangements. Instead, this work to make the wedding day special tends to fall to the bride. The reasons why Sniezek believes this is important is interesting. It’s fascinating that a few of the women to believe they are in relationships in which the division of labor is equal when the reality is starkly different.
It’s hard not to see this first major event, often seen as a joining of two families or the creation of a new family, as formative for the couple as an experience. It also stands to reason that this might establish longer-term relationship patterns. But these interviews were conducted in 1999/2000. If anything, weddings have become more elaborate, expensive, and labor-intensive since then. I’d be interested to see what Sniezek has to say about the wedding industry today.