Jitters, toasts and the whole shebang

There are 190,000 weddings held each year in Poland. At PLN 25,000- PLN 100,000 a pop, that rounds up to a hefty sum for the wedding industry. Even though the number of ceremonies is dropping, they are becoming more lavish, spectacular – and expensive

By Sergiusz Prokurat

The no. 1 topic of media speculation before the recent royal wedding was what dresses Meghan Markle would wear during and after the ceremony. Every bride wants to be beautiful on her wedding day, and beauty doesn’t come cheap. There is jewelry, hairstyling, make-up, photo sessions, a band or a DJ, booking a reception hall with catering and alcohol, as well as accommodation for out-of-town guests. All these costs build up just before the wedding.

The significance of wedding ceremonies is usually undervalued, though a typical wedding day with a wedding reception costs from PLN 25,000 to PLN 100,000. This allows tens of thousands of people to earn their living from the industry, including those who make and sell wedding outfits or jewelry and those who organize wedding days, arrange catering, music, decorations and photography services. If we add the cost of wedding gifts and travel expenses incurred by guests, it turns out that the turnover of “the wedding industry” amounts to as much as PLN 10 billion a year. What is the outlook for the market in the near future?

Fewer ‘I do’s’

The last decade was marked by a considerable change in the number of marriages. Just after the transformation of the political system in 1989, Poland saw 250,000 weddings a year. These days, each year there are approximately 190,000 ceremonies on record. Not all couples organize a wedding reception, as some opt for the thrifty option of just a wedding ceremony.

The number of church weddings is also decreasing. Only as recently as in the year 2000, they constituted 72 percent of all marriages concluded in Poland, while today their number has fallen to 60 percent, which indicates a progressive laicization and westernization of Poland. This is confirmed by the number of people who, in general, are not interested in the institution of marriage.

In the second decade of the 21st century, fewer than two-thirds of Poles were interested in getting hitched at any point in their life, and the number is now starting to oscillate around 60 percent. Although this value seems very low – particularly when we compare it to the communist 1980s, when marriage was sort of a social duty for people deciding to share their lives together – compared to other European countries (where approx. 50 percent of people are willing to get married), the population of Poland still has a high tendency to take the walk down the aisle. The decrease in the number of marriages is going be partly offset by the increase in the number of informal relationships or partnerships.

Older and wiser

The steadily increasing number of divorces also triggers a high and ever-growing proportion of second marriages. Poland is catching up with Europe in this area. Now, almost 20 percent of marriages are relationships where at least one of the newlyweds already has previous experience of marriage. It is likely that within a few years, Poland – just like other countries in Europe – will reach a larger percentage of divorces.

The typical age of the people stepping on the wedding carpet for the first time has increased as well – the median age of newlywed men increased from 26.5 in 2005 to 28.6 in 2016, while in the case of women it increased from 24.6 to 26.6. Marriages will be characterized by the increasingly higher age of the newlyweds. All signs point to a trend where within the next decade, the typical age of a newlywed will increase by another two years.

Going all out

For the wedding industry it could mean a difficult period of change and increased competition. Poles are thinking about getting married later in life and less frequently, because generations which value life stabilization are becoming increasingly less numerous.

But then again, weddings will be more diverse, multicultural and demanding from an organizational perspective – and thus more expensive. In 2015, Polish law allowed for civil marriages outside Civic Registry Offices. This made it possible to organize weddings that people had previously only seen in Hollywood movies. Although the weather may always throw a wrench in the works, couples are increasingly eager to opt for more original scenery. Outdoor weddings are therefore growing in popularity.

Also, more and more young Polish couples are entrusting the organization of their wedding to a professional wedding planner or even organizing an American-style wedding, which includes holding a wedding rehearsal and a rehearsal dinner the day before the actual ceremony. The latest trends in Poland also include arranging for wedding photo booths, where every guest can take a snapshot, or an all-night DJ. Despite all the new influences, the age-old tradition of drinking vodka for the couple’s prosperity is still alive and kicking.

Some customs are changing, though. Today, in large cities, newlyweds expect the invitees to reimburse the incurred costs. It is ap¬propriate to give an envelope with money, or “pay” for a dance with one of the newlyweds. No wonder many young couples embarking on their journey think of their wedding as an opportunity to make money for a downpayment on a home. But before you tuck a bill in the wedding bouquet, make sure you know what is expected from the wedding party, as some Poles will still be shocked by such an attitude.

Real estate impact

Weddings have a significant economic impact, particularly because for a certain group of newlyweds getting married means they will have to find a new home, furnish it and change existing patterns of individual consumption. In Poland there is a popular saying that it is not the child that binds the marriage – it is the mortgage. Thus, the wind of change will reach this market as well. Because, in Poland, the number of people aged 25-29 will decrease from 2.76 million people in 2016 to 2.41 million in 2020 and 1.97 million in 2025 – so, as a result, the demand for apartments may fall as well. Unless we introduce immigrants into the mix.

The geographical aspects of Poles getting a spouse from abroad are interesting. The needs of Polish men and women are not always the same. In the case of mixed nationality marriages, women tend to prefer the British, Germans, Italians and Spaniards as their spouses. Men, on the other hand, look for Ukrainian, Russian and Belarussian brides. It is particularly worth drawing attention to the rapid growth of marriages concluded between the citizens of Poland and Ukraine as a result of the increasingly greater influx of Ukrainians in Poland. The trend is very likely to continue in the coming years. The effects of such inflows are usually visible after three to five years – so it is only in the coming years that will we will see the effects of immigration on the marriage market. In the last two years, the number of such marriages increased from 3,367 to 4,662, which translates as growth of almost 40 percent. Poland is, for better or worse, taking big steps towards a multicultural society.

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