Decoding the Big Fat Indian Wedding Industry

Abstract

The Big Fat Indian wedding is legendary. A staggering 1 crore weddings take place in India every year and the wedding industry is growing at 25-30% annually. People across the world dream of attending one, and people in the country go to extreme ends to have one! These grand celebrations are characterized by massive spends and also massive waste. Its complexity, diversity and scale make it a very interesting case study. This paper aims to understand the workings, sociology, demography and economics of the wedding industry in India as compared to the rest of the world.

The factors contributing most significantly to this rise, include a rising urbanisation rate and GDP. Both these factors have led to an increase in the aspirational middle class with a higher spending capacity. Add to this the rising number of weddings owing to a young population, and the wedding industry has seen a spurt in the last decade.

Introduction to the wedding industry

The Big Fat Indian wedding is legendary. A staggering 1 crore weddings take place in India every year and the wedding industry is growing at 25-30% annually. People across the world dream of attending one, and people in the country go to extreme ends to have one! These grand celebrations are characterized by massive spends and also massive waste. Its complexity, diversity and scale make it a very interesting case study. This paper aims to understand the workings, sociology, demography and economics of the wedding industry in India as compared to the rest of the world.

The factors contributing most significantly to this rise, include a rising urbanisation rate and GDP. Both these factors have led to an increase in the aspirational middle class with a higher spending capacity. Add to this the rising number of weddings owing to a young population, and the wedding industry has seen a spurt in the last decade.

Factors Fuelling Growth of the Indian Wedding Industry

Big fat indian wedding

This paper examines the largely unstructured Indian wedding industry, which has been touted as recession-proof. We break down its complex social, economic and cultural diversity, key areas of spend and key sources of waste. We also examine how technology is helping the Indian wedding ceremony evolve into a smarter, waste-free one.

Our hope is that the post-Covid prospective couple will be more conscious about the world that we live in. This paper serves to inspire couples to plan celebrations that rate higher on environment-friendliness and lower on waste, without compromising on the fun.

A Global Perspective: How we peg against the rest of the world

A peek inside the two biggest wedding markets

While the USA is currently the number one wedding market in the world, India is poised to take over that title soon enough. To understand the difference in the market sizes of the 2 countries, let’s start with elementary numbers.

As of 2021, India’s population is over 4 times that of the US, while its size is only 1/3rd. From a sheer volume perspective, there is no parity in the two countries. India is estimated to have about 40 crore weddings in the next 15 years, while the total population of the USA is 32 crore. The per capita expenses in India are about 1/10th of America. Yet, the per capita wedding spend in urban India is 1.5 times the latter. In fact, Indians are notorious for extravagant celebrations, with the recent Ambani wedding costing over ₹750 crore. However, the most expensive wedding recorded in America was that of Chelsea Clinton, costing ₹37.5 crore.

The below table helps us understand not just the volumetric difference in the two markets but even the way their people spend and celebrate.

*Actual size of wedding industry in India is likely much bigger due to a large portion of payments being made in cash
*India’s spend per wedding here is calculated including the top 7% of India’s HNIs & Elites, who although small in number, account for over 70% of the country’s wedding spend. The high national average is due to this.

Weddings and seasonality in India and USA

As is evident from the graph below, the seasonality of the two countries is diametrically opposite. In India, the seasonality is hinged on the lunar calendar that it’s majority Hindu population follows. Other factors such as end-of -year holidays and availability also play a small role.

The USA is a more practical market with summer weather defining the peak wedding season.

A comparison of waste and spends across different wedding markets

The size, scale, and subsequently the waste at weddings in India is huge, even when compared to the rest of the world. For one, the sheer number of weddings that take place every year combined with the percentage of the population that is unmarried creates an unmatched potential for waste. A comparison of the top wedding markets in the world, in terms of size, scale and waste generated illustrates the divide.

Given our emphasis on waste in this article, it’s useful to understand how India ranks in comparison to its global counterparts. While the West has relatively lower food wastage owing to sit-down dinner weddings, Asian countries skyrocket here, and UAE leading the pack with 30% of all its wedding food going to waste.

Asian countries see higher food waste than the West

The enormity of food waste generated in India becomes much bigger when understood in the context of the sheer size of its wedding industry compared to other countries. With the lowest average age and largest population below 35, India’s wedding industry is set to boom, especially when compared to the ageing population in other top markets.

India has the lowest median age & highest growth rate, per-wedding spend & population <35

While UAE does not rank significantly on account of overall industry size and number of weddings, it’s been included in the comparison for its exorbitant wedding budgets.

Taking from the above, the current market size and growth rate of the world’s biggest wedding markets can be understood below. The current leader in terms of industry size, the US, is actually witnessing a negative growth rate, whereas India’s is by far the highest.

What Comprises The Indian wedding industry

India’s wedding industry is unique, for a plethora of reasons. The second most populous country will see a staggering number of weddings in the coming years. Add to that the size, scale and social validation that come with Indian weddings, and you arrive at an industry that traditionally has, and continues to be referred to as “recession proof”.

Unlike the other big wedding markets, India’s population is anything but linear. With a plethora of different cultures, religions, regions and social traditions, there is a lot of complexity within the Indian wedding consumer. In this section, we break down Indian weddings by demographics, and view it from the lens of the varied population characteristics

By Age

India is the world’s second largest population, and all set to take over China in the coming years. What makes its population unique is that a country with 130 crore people has 65% of its population below the age of 35, making it a young nation.

The Indian population in the average marriageable age bracket, 20-35 years, amounts to 33.8 crore people. This number equals the entire population of the United States. Interestingly, India also ranks 189 out of 201 countries in terms of its gender ratio (2020), which is skewed in favor of men. This has resulted in a higher percentage of unmarried men than women in India.

With growing education, economic empowerment and modernisation, the average marriageable age in India has been on a steady rise over the last 2 decades.

By Region

While the number of unmarried Indians in rural and urban areas is at par in South, West and North India, this number is skewed in the favour of rural Indians in East, North East and Central India. While East and Central India have double the number of unmarried Indians in rural areas, it goes up to 4 times in the North East.

Weddings by Culture

We have over 780 spoken languages, 3000 communities and 8 major religions. Each has its own way of celebrating a wedding. They vary dramatically in the rituals, duration and spend.

Weddings by Religion

While India is a secular nation with citizens practicing most major religions, it has a Hindu majority. Typical Hindu weddings, unlike Christian ceremonies, are characterized by a series of pre-wedding functions leading up to the big day, making the wedding spend higher for this group. With close to 80% of the population following these traditions, the scale of weddings becomes much larger in the country.

Population by Language & Community

India is unique in that each community speaks a different language and unlike other countries, most Indians are multilingual. Spoken language offers great insight into India’s cultural diversity as they are prime indicators of the country’s top communities

The above communities are not just the largest in terms of their size but also the most conspicuous in terms of wedding spends. Punjabis and Marwaris have been added to the study as even though they aren’t significant in population, they make a huge impact on the wedding market in terms of the iconism of their celebrations and their spend.

The Sociology of Weddings

Trends & Beliefs

The grandness with which we celebrate Indian wedding ceremonies are a function of our belief system and social roots. For any change to occur in the way we celebrate, that too needs to stem from society. Hence it is imperative to understand how our weddings are changing, and the factors contributing to this change.

Cross-Cultural Weddings

In India, while only 5.8% of weddings were inter-caste (2014 data), a recent study shows that 55% of India’s millennial population across metros and non-metros are open to inter-caste and inter-religion marriages. However, another survey of parents shows 70% are completely against the idea of an inter-caste marriage.

Intercaste Marriages are more common in lower income group

Wedding customs and traditions by region

The complexity of cultures in India makes it difficult to identify all rituals and ceremonies. However, given the geographical concentration of cultures in certain regions, one can map the varying rituals and life cycle of Indian weddings based on broad geographical areas. North, Central and West India see a broad similarity in the way they celebrate their weddings, while the South and Eastern part of the country have distinctly different customs.

Each part of the country celebrates differently

The other trends in weddings

The Unmarried Population

Unlike the West, India has a significantly lower number of divorces. In fact, the large number of second and third marriages is a big reason for the USA having the largest wedding industry in the world.
Divorce rate in US: 39%
Divorce rate in India: 1%
(As on 2018)

– When widowed individuals (4.3%) are added to the list, the percentage of the no-longer married people becomes significantly higher with a national average of 5.2%

– In terms of individuals who were never married, the North Eastern region of the country leads, with Nagaland coming on top at 55% of never married individuals, followed by Mizoram at 53.3, and Jammu Kashmir at 51.6. This is compared to a national average of 41.6%10

– Tamil Nadu leads the tally with 7.9 % divorced/separated/widowed individuals9

Western Trends In Indian marriages

Weddings in India may be much bigger in scale than their Western counter-parts, but trends from the USA are taking Indian weddings by storm. Some popular wedding trends that are becoming entrenched in urban Indian weddings are:

– Gift Registry

– Bridal Showers

– Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties

– Proposals

– Cake Cutting

– Bridesmaid Boxes

– Luxury Western Brands in Trousseau

Destination weddings

With Western influences, there has been a surge in the demand for destination weddings in India22.

Size of destination wedding industry: ₹ 45,000 crores
Growth rate: 25-30% (Supported by the rise of the middle class & a robust economy)31

The Honeymoon

Another important aspect of the Indian wedding industry is the honey- moon travel sector, which was pegged at an expected growth rate of 25-30% in 2017. This is high, compared to the expected growth in the travel sector being pegged at 11% in the same year.

Size of India’s travel industry ₹ 3.6 lakh crore
Market share of honeymoon travel: ₹ 36,000 crore (Based on estimates by industry expert)

With millennials more focused on experiences rather than things, Google shows a 27% increase in search for honeymoon destinations38 & 40.
4 in 10 couples choose an iternational destination for their honeymoon.

With millennials prefer experiences over products, this sector has seen a huge rise in the last decade. However, as we write this article, the pandemic is sure to lead to a significant drop in this industry. With travel bans, limited connectivity and an overriding fear of the virus spreading across the world, the travel industry has seen an unprecedented hit. Projections by CARE show a loss of ₹ 1.25 trillion to the travel industry in 2020, with a 70% decline in travel post March.

Arranged vs Love marriages

A large percentage of the Indian Marriage still has an arranged marriageset up, implying that parents or a trusted third party “arrange” the alliance.


This is based on a compatibility of social, cultural, income and family backgrounds of the individuals. 93% weddings are arranged, while the remaining were love or love/arranged in 2018.
While arranged marriages are still the norm in India, we see the percentage of love marriages slightly higher in the educated segment of the population. 9% of post graduates and 13% of doctorate holders choose to have love marriages, compared to just 3% of the non-educated population.

The Pre-COVID Wedding Economics

While the sociology and composition of the wedding market remains same, the economics have drastically altered in the last 2 years. Let us look into wedding spends and industry economics in the pre-covid era.

Big Spends

Now that we understand the complexity that makes up the Indian wedding consumer, let’s explore the economics of it.

Who’s spending it?

Unlike many countries in the West, in India, it is the parents and not the couple that shoulders most of the wedding budget. Also, given the high cost of weddings and the low per capita income, a substantial part of an individual’s lifetime savings is spent on the wedding of their offspring.

The financial burden of weddings

The staggering waste

To contextualize why we need to rethink the wedding industry in India, We need to start by understanding the sheer volume of waste it leads to. While in theory many of us know that waste would be a logical byproduct of weddings, the actual numbers are shocking. Below are the three biggest sources of waste in an Indian wedding—food, flowers and gifts.

Food: 20% of all food at weddings is thrown away. This equates to about INR 10,500 CR in food waste every year. Bangalore weddings alone see a food waste of 950 tonnes a year, valued at INR 339 CR, enough to feed 2.6 CR people a complete meal. Compare this to the fact that 14.5% of our population was considered under nourished in 2019, and becomes worse.

Flowers: Hundreds of tonnes of flowers are thrown away after a wedding, all of which adversely impact marine life. A recent wedding in Auli saw 32,600 kgs of waste from a 5-day affair and irreparable damage to the hill-station’s eco-system.

Gifts: Conservatively INR 1,00,000 CR is spent every year on wasted wedding gifts for couples. Compare this to India’s annual health budget for 2019 – INR 62,000 CR and the magnitude of this waste becomes clearer.

Classifying Indian weddings by spends

Given the diversity of weddings in India, from rural to urban and across cultures and religions, it is hard to find a common categorization. However, based on spends, we can broadly categorize wedding industry in India into the below categories:

Key learnings

– 70% of weddings come under the ‘low expenditure’ bracket. However, the money spent between the high spenders and elite (total 7%) can exceed the amount spent on these 70% weddings.

– Elite weddings in India can see exorbitant spends, with the recent wedding of Isha Ambani costing over ₹750 crore!

Inside the Economics of the Wedding Industry Services

The wedding pie – a spilt by services

How does this giant industry work? What components make up this ₹3.75 lakh crore economy?
The making of a big fat Indian wedding takes a lot of different vendors and services working in sync and each of them hold significant market share. Below are the key vendors that dominate the industry.

The above numbers give us an insight into what the wedding industry comprises. Catering, décor and venue account for over 50% of the total wedding spend. But there are many support industries that also contribute significantly to the market.

The gold & diamond jewellery market for direct wedding sales in India is worth ₹ 60,000 crore. This is 12% of the total jewellery industry. However, if one adds heirlooms that are passed on and makes charges, the number is significantly higher. Similarly, the bridal Mehendi market, which isn’t one of the top contributors, is also worth ₹ 5000 crore17.

Organized vs Unorganized Channels

In India, the wedding market remains largely unorganized, with most vendors having minimal online presence, and working as individuals or small companies.

How different wedding industry services work

“The Pandemic Effect” – Understanding the Post-COVID shift

While the numbers above are staggering, post covid, the big fat Indian wedding has gone lean, with technology and virtual services significantly reducing the spends that one makes. It’s also made wedding planning safer, more convenient, and accessible for both couples and guests.

Technology & Smart Weddings

Technology has a huge role to play in wedding planning in the coming years.. From researching wedding ideas and tips to using digital services like apps and invites, social media too has begun to play a large part in wedding celebrations. Internet penetration therefore becomes a key evaluator in the wedding industry.

As of 2021, India has around 84.5 crore Internet users, expected to grow to 100.8 crore in 2023.
– Urban India Internet penetration: 64.85%
– Rural India Internet penetration: 20.26%

Traditionally, India’s wedding planning sector has been a network of family, friends and offline planners. For the most part, this billion-dollar industry was unorganized, with no major players and minimal digital presence. It was only in the last 15 years that digital brands across different wedding services have started establishing national presence. And while there is a long way to go, there has been a significant increase in awareness of online services in the last few years:

DIGITAL INVITATIONS

WEDDING WEBSITES

GIFT REGISTRIES

LIVE STREAMING SERVICES

Gift Registry

With technology, we now have services like the gift registry that help eliminate the waste of ₹ 1 lakh crore that is spent every year on wedding gifts. The service ensures couples get what they need to start their new life, so no gifts go to waste. And technology helps enable this in the smoothest way possible, allowing guests from all over the world to buy or contribute towards gifts. In post-COVID19 times, with limited travel and opportunity for guests to personally shop for gifts, this will be more relevant than ever.

Despite some social taboo against the service, the concept is rising. And online matrimony is the perfect example of when a taboo idea gained mass popularity with technology leading it.

The Early Entrants

While technology and digital services are making a huge impact on weddings now, especially post COVID19, there are some brands that entered and established themselves in this space early on. Brands like  Matrimony.com, Shaadi.com and Canvera have been around for over a  decade and are household names in the business. 

The digital landscape today 

Today, technology is making wedding planning convenient and pocket  friendly and there are hundreds of digital brands catering to all kinds of wedding services. From vendor platforms to photography, invites, gift registry, venues, logistics and more available online, this sector is all set to grow.  

These digital services have aided the wedding industry greatly in transforming their work across various media platforms in boosting customer engagement. This sector is all about setting goals in a virtual platform for meaningful occasions and expenses. 

Top wedding services that are going digital include: 

– E-invites 

– Websites 

– Gift Registry 

– Live streaming of weddings  

– Matchmaking  

– Online vendor databases 

– Online venue platforms  

– Digital booking of vehicles  

Increased internet penetration and higher reliance on technology in  wedding planning has led to a surge in search volumes for key wedding  services. 

Online Search

Increased internet penetration and higher reliance on technology in  wedding planning has led to a surge in search volumes for key wedding  services. 

Digital giants entering weddings

As technology creates an impact in the wedding industry, big global brands are establishing their digital presence in the world of weddings.

Enter Millennials – Smaller, Smarter Weddings

It’s not just the spending patterns where millennials are changing. This generation is giving the big fat Indian wedding a more conscious and meaningful avatar. With a preference for smaller wed- dings, eco-friendly and meaningful celebrations, and greater use of technology, they are shaking up the wedding industry. As a generation, millennials are defined by the below personality traits19, 20, 21.

– They are passionate about their surroundings.
– They prefer experiences, with travel topping the list.
– They want smaller weddings, with less than 100 guests.
– They want to pay for their wedding. 68% feel the need to contribute. – They like to give back, and receive charitable contributions as gifts. – They feel technology simplifies their life and wedding planning.

From the above it follows that couples today view wedding planning very differently from their parents’ generation. The celebration is moving towards intimate, pocket friendly, conscious and tech led. The rise in tech tools like e-invites, websites and gift registry, plus the manner in which they are used, illustrate this.

Wedding spends & technology

Research has shown that the wedding industry today has largely benefited from technological advancements. Technology has introduced a wide horizon of opportunities by providing virtual services and digital invites, making for a better platform which further helps effective spending and saving.

Here is a table that compares physical and virtual weddings and explains how beneficial technology has been.

COVID 19 and the new world

With the world facing a pandemic, the wedding industry has been ‘permanently altered’ in the new world we emerge in. While millennial trends have been indicating a shift towards conscious celebrations and smaller weddings, coronavirus has accelerated this change.

As economies struggle to remain stable, budget weddings are likely to become the norm. With travel set to become difficult, destination weddings and large guest lists also seem to be a remote possibility.

Here are some notable instances that occurred as a result of the pandemic in 2020:
– 45% of weddings held in the second quarter of 2020 were cancelled.
Delhi led this trend with a 62% cancellation rate.

– 75% destination weddings were cancelled between April to July 2020 in March 2020 itself

– April, May & June sums to 26.87% of the weddings. These weddings got pushed, adding significantly to the number of weddings in the 2nd half of the year.

With weddings now being largely virtual-service driven, research showed that:

– For those that provided a virtual/live streaming option (43%), the majority focused on streaming the ceremony only (77%) and notified their guests of the details in a myriad of ways, most notably through email (45%) and on their wedding website (45%).

Incorporating this technology into their wedding also gave couples a unique opportunity to invite more than just those guests who were physically invited to the wedding to watch their nuptials (41%).

COVID-19 Weddings and its impact on the traditional wedding format

Minimization of waste

From cutting out unwanted gifts to paper invites there are a lot of benefits which come in regard to minimizing waste! Guests can select from a variety of environmentally friendly and cost-effective invitation options and choose gifts that are conscious and useful.

It’s the safer option

Since the current pandemic prevents public gatherings, virtual services provide safety and celebration without compromising one another. Guests and family members can enjoy all of the glimpses of their loved ones special day while remaining safe at home.

Faster and easier communication

Traditional events require a lot of back and forth in terms of scheduling meetings, themes, and invitations in person, but virtual services make it easier to communicate, send out invites, receive RSVPs etc quicker without getting tangled up in otherwise traditional wedding planning duties.

Demand for online services after COVID-19

The e-commerce industry has made it easier for customers to shop. People have grown familiar with the use of online and virtual services. We see that the demand for online services has increased in recent post covid times, and businesses are looking for new and long-term ways to keep their online services running.

Why people have opted for online wedding services

Wedding Wishlist began as a wedding gift registry platform based on real problems faced by real couples. They wanted to provide couples with a platform to receive gifts they really wanted while minimizing waste. Soon, Wedding Wishlist became so much more, a tech-led company working towards simplified wedding planning.

“Three years on, there is increased patronage and there is a change in the kind of questions asked by a prospective couple on the wedding registry. Earlier we had to educate couples about the concept. Today, they understand it very well. A gift registry allows wedding guests to buy any gift from the couple’s Wishlist that fits into their budget. Guests can even give a gift as a group. This way, the couple receives gifts that are relevant to their married life. And wedding guests can be certain their gift is meaningful and cherished by the couple” states Kankia Subbiah the founder of Wedding Wishlist.

People have figured out how to strike a balance between staying safe and not compromising the need for special occasions to keep traditions and family close. According to a report by KPMG, the wedding market in India is valued at $50 billion and is growing at a rapid annual rate, making it more likely that the opportunity for marriages during covid period and online services will only get bigger and better!

How online services offer wise and meaningful spendings

Now that we have a better understanding of the wedding industry’s spendings we can calculate the amount of wise and efficient spending that can occur if people opt for more online services rather than grand and wasteful ways of spending.

Online services can plan the entire theme and various wedding trends with just a click of a button for a budget-conscious celebration. It shows a clear picture on how to keep a track of what’s going on without having to visit the venue frequently or any such hassle. Recognizing that the true spirit of a celebration is bringing loved ones closer together and sharing precious moments with them while maintaining safety and fun!

Conclusion

Covid has changed the way we celebrate. This might not be as virtual as it is today but the outlook is that we’ll retain the convenience of online services like gift registry and live stream and integrate with more manageable physical celebrations and come out with truly memorable hybrid weddings.

As the data above shows, the big fat Indian wedding is all set to go lean. While technology, millennial mindset and exposure were already working to propel this change, it will truly accelerate in the ‘post-Corona’ world. With couples wanting to minimize waste, be more environment-conscious and budget friendly, the hope is to see more post COVID marriages that are less wasteful, but more intimate and memorable.

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