The cost of marrying a Ghanaian woman has been increasing over the past decade especially in the area of wedding ceremonies. Wedding ceremonies have long moved from going to the cathedral to receive blessings to gathering large crowds to engage in merry making and lavish show of economic muscles.
I’ve observed some lavish weddings in the capital as well as lean ones. I have also listened to the exciting and sometimes regrettable recounts of weddings organised by now married couples. In all these, some costs are absolutely necessary, if you want to organize a wedding. Wedding gown, suit for the groom, bridal make-up and accessories, photography and jewelry are some unavoidable costs no matter the wedding size.
There are classes of weddings, usually depending on economic power and willingness to spend. The social status of at least one of the two families largely influences the class of wedding ceremony, especially the wedding reception – an after-marriage merry making ceremony which accounts for about 50 percent of the cost of sampled marriage ceremonies. Whereas the perception is that the groom foots the entire wedding bill, most couples I spoke with confessed that the bride partly funds the ceremony, up to about 20%. In fortunate circumstances, the family would also support with some freebies such as drinks.
Weddings have become a part of the Ghanaian culture, especially in the cities. Almost every Saturday, you would get an invitation to one or two. I asked the couples why they chose to have a wedding ceremony with a reception and in most cases, they said it is because it is the norm. They could not have gotten married without going through that. The men usually saved for about two years preceding their wedding day to be able to throw a befitting wedding. They also agreed that at the time, they felt that was befitting for the woman and their social image as well. So two years of saving finally comes down to a single day to spend it all.
In 2015, weddings I surveyed averaged GHc50,000 in cost; equivalent to two years savings of a 5-year old banking officer in Ghana. So, according to the men, it is like starting from zero once you get married. “You have to build it up all over again. In the same way you were able to save that much in the first place” one young married man commented.
It is like a willingness to lose it all just to get married. Only about 60 percent of men agreed they were least indirect influenced by the would-be wife to throw a lavish wedding, beyond what they originally planned. Some weddings exceeded GHc100,000 and yet couples felt it was worth every cedi. But obviously, these are couples from good homes with well-paying jobs. In very few cases, the groom borrowed from friends and family to be able to meet the wedding cost.
Overspending is one thing associated with weddings and wedding receptions. About 10% of budgeted cost was required at the end of it all to take care of broken plates, extra drinks, rented items missing, and many more.
Are there benefits to throwing an expensive wedding ceremony in Ghana? Yes! Largely gifts, gifts and gifts. Monetary or in kind, gifts are the major financial benefits of having a wedding with large crowds. My respondents recovered about 20% in cash and another 10% in kind.
The financial gainers of these growing lavish ceremonies are photographers, caterers, decorators, make-up artists, florists, fashion boutiques, DJs, MCs, luxury car rental businesses, and other providers of wedding services. So it is not an unprofitable venture after all. You just have to know where to position yourself in the complex system.
Couples sampled had at least one of the partners employed at the time of marriage with combined income of at least GHc3,000. Weddings featured in the study took place between 2012 and January 2016.