08/20/2014 09:56 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

Do Big Weddings Make Good Marriages?

Buccina Studios

A five-feet-tall wedding cake made for 550 people in Palm Beach. Drones engaged to snap wedding photos from the air in Israel. An average of $25,000 spent on weddings in New Zealand, of all places. Roll your eyes at these recent reports of big weddings - I know I do - but here's something to think about: the more people who attend a wedding, the longer the marriage may last.

That's what two psychology professors at the University of Denver, Galena Rhoades and Scott Stanley, suggest after analyzing the relationships of more than 1,000 men and women, ages 18-34, who were unmarried. They followed the subjects for five years. During that time, 418 of the participants, "reasonably representative of unmarried adults in race/ethnicity and income," got married.

Rhoades and Stanley divided the married couples into those who had weddings of 50 or fewer people, 51 to 149 people or 150 or more people. Controlling for income and education, they asked the subjects about the quality of their marriages. Thirty-one percent of those who had had the smallest weddings reported being very satisfied with their marriages. Among those whose weddings fell within the middle range, the figure was 37 percent and among those with the biggest weddings, 47 percent.

In their report, Rhoades and Stanley are quick to say that it was not how much money these couples spent on their weddings that appeared to be important. It was how many friends and family members attended the wedding. (My own experience confirms this. See below.) Said Stanley,

Having a good number of witnesses can both add to one's sense that there is a community around a marriage, and also to the internal desire to follow through on the commitment one has made." When problems in the marriage surface, he added, the married couple have more people to turn to for advice and support.

Is there a magical number of guests that suggests the marriage will succeed, or that might help a couple limit the number of those invited in order to keep down costs? Unfortunately, no, according to the authors.

A recent Huffington Post article reported that weddings today cost an average of $30,000.

Despite all the hype from the wedding industry, big weddings can rock and not have to put one (or one's parents) in debt for years. As my husband Carl and I prepared to get married, we didn't know how we could possibly keep down the number of guests to invite. Both of us worked in the newsroom of a medium-sized newspaper and we knew everyone. So we invited everyone.

The ceremony took place in a small chapel. My father, a minister, presided. The reception was held in a large back yard belonging to a friend of a friend. We played cassette tapes (I know, that dates me) that I had recorded earlier in the week. My friends and I set out hors d'oeuvres and cookies we had made the day before in my kitchen. My mother was put in charge of the gin punch. She still laughs today about how, afraid that she would run out of gin, she had to shoo away the paper's managing editor who, each time she refreshed the punch bowl with gin, attempted to put his glass under the bottle.

Just when Carl and I were about to collapse into bed on that wedding night, we heard cars roll up and park in front of our house. Minutes later, we were entertaining friends, only hours from when our plane was due to take us on our honeymoon - 33 years ago.