The severe economic crisis that has engulfed the country for the past decade has widened the gap between the affluent and the disadvantaged classes. While a large segment of the Iranian population struggles to make ends meet, a select group of people continues to live privileged lives.
This economic inequity is apparent in every aspect of the daily life in Iran. For instance, many young couples are forced to postpone their marriage for months or even years due to the exorbitant cost involved in planning and organizing a wedding. Meanwhile, others from wealthy families spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavish wedding receptions.
Couples in Iran on average spend $3,000 on photography, $1,000 on makeup, $3,000 on a bridal gown, $1,000 on flowers, and $100 a person for a wedding reception. There are also additional expenses that increase the overall cost of getting married including dowry and gifts that a bride’s family must give the groom.
However, not everyone who is overwhelmed by the massive cost of throwing a wedding reception is poor or working class. Unemployment, the high cost of living and inflation have forced many middle-class families into poverty in recent years. Many couples cannot afford to get married.
Kayhan Life spoke to two young couples, who had married recently, about the preparation and financial cost of planning a wedding.
Hooman and Neda met six years ago and had been planning their wedding for the past four years. They both live and work in Tehran. Hooman is a chartered accountant (certified public accountant) who completed his university studies in India. Neda is a graduate of Azad University in graphic arts. Hooman’s parents were both high school teachers. His father died 15 years ago from a stroke.
Neda’s father was a manufacturer of school bags and backpacks until four years ago when he had to shut down his business and retire due to the severe economic downturn. Neda’s mother is a homemaker.
Hooman and Neda were finally able to marry three and a half years ago. However, they had to settle for a civil wedding ceremony at the register office and a small lunch reception.
“In addition to the usual expenses, we had also factored in the cost of a wedding reception when we first decided to marry,” Neda and Hooman told Kayhan Life. “However, with prices of goods and services keep increasing, the cost of a dinner reception soon exceeded our budget.”
Hooman explained: “I’ve never been without a job since returning from India in 2007. I worked at a law firm for two years and then got my current job with a general contracting company. Despite being gainfully employed all these years, I haven’t been able to save much money. My only major purchase has been a used Peugeot 206. My mother is a pensioner and helps my younger brother who is still in university. So, I couldn’t ask her for help.”
Neda said: “Wedding reception is part of an overall cost of a marriage ceremony. There are other expenses including dowry, home appliances, furniture, and housing. Currently, it is next to impossible to rent a 50 square meters apartment in a decent neighborhood for less than $1,500 a month.”
Neda added: “I didn’t want an extravagant wedding reception, but we weren’t able to save enough money in just three years to have a simple ceremony. The constant financial pressure and anxiety affected our relationship. We eventually settled for a civil wedding ceremony at the register office and a small family lunch reception.”
Hooman explained: “Neda’s family wouldn’t agree to a simple wedding at first, but they eventually relented. It took us nearly three months to rent an apartment and furnish it. We invited a total of 30 family members, relatives and close friends to the wedding. We married at the register office in the morning, then had a small lunch reception at a restaurant and finally held a party at our place in the afternoon.”
Neda said: “The entire ceremony cost less than $3,000. Our biggest expense was our wedding rings which cost about $1,500. Restaurant, photography, wedding gown, groom’s suit, makeup, and legal costs added up to a total of $1,200. We should have done this four years ago. I still dream of that perfect wedding but not for myself of course but our children.”
Shamim and Mohammad also live in Tehran. They married a few weeks earlier than Neda and Hooman. Shamim is an environmentalist but is currently unemployed. Mohammad is an information system technician. He works at his father’s home appliance importing company.
They told Kayhan Life: “We held our wedding at a botanical garden. It cost us over $7,000 to rent the venue. That was our biggest expense. We held the entire ceremony including the wedding reception in the garden. There was a three-course set menu costing $30 per person. Floral arrangements, lighting, bridal bouquet, and wedding car flowers cost us a total of $2,300.”
Shamim said: “I paid close to $2,400 for my wedding gown. I bought it from a foreign retailer. We paid more than $1,000 for Mohammad’s suite and both our shoes. One of our biggest expenses was photography and video and audio recording of the ceremony which cost us close to $5,500.”
“I wanted the entire ceremony recorded,” Mohammad said. “We also had to pay a total of $1,000 for the ceremonial wedding spread and a disk jockey. Our wedding rings cost $3,400.”
Mohammad’s family gave a total of $7,000 worth of gold jewelry as wedding gifts to Shamim.
Shamim explained: “It was a wonderful wedding. There were around 110 guests at the dinner reception. It’s a once in a lifetime event, so a couple must make it a special occasion. They’ll remember the event for the rest of their lives.”
“I’m very pleased that the wedding went as Shamim had planned. My father was very supportive,” Mohammad said. “We realize that only a small percentage of the population can spend as much as we did on their weddings, given the current dire economic conditions. We are fortunate to have families who helped us to pay for ours.”
The sharp contrast between these two wedding receptions illustrates the widening gap between the classes in the Iranian society. The prevalent economic inequality is evident in all aspects of everyday life in the country including job security, workers’ compensation, healthcare, education, housing, wages, and salaries. The economic downturn of the past decade has shrunk the Iranian middle class and forced many families into poverty.
Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi