Buying an engagement ring can be an emotionally loaded purchase. For most people, it’s more than jewelry: It is a symbol of love and affection and of the serious commitment they want to make. How much is that worth?
For the typical American, two weeks’ pay.
The median American spends about 4 percent (or two weeks) of annual pretax income on an engagement ring, according to an online poll of 1,640 adults conducted for The Upshot by Morning Consult.
The poor spend two months’ wages on rings, but for most it is less than two weeks.
Morning Consult asked a nationally representative sample of adults when they were engaged; how much they earned when they were engaged; and how much they paid for the engagement ring, if they bought one. The cost was then adjusted for inflation from the year of engagement. (Wedding bands were not included.)
Overall spending did increase with higher incomes, yet stayed remarkably flat as a percentage of income. Except for people at the very bottom of the income ladder, spending on a ring hovered around 4 percent.
Still, spending on engagement rings does have a long tail: Seven percent of people in the poll reported paying more than $10,000 on one. The potential amount spent can seem limitless (Cardi B, before her recent split with rapper Offset, said her ring was worth half a million dollars). But the median payment was $1,900 in the poll, with most people within that ballpark by $1,500 or so.
Most people spend $500 to $3,000 on engagement rings.
And across generations, the fraction spent on a ring has also been stable, with median spending falling between 3.7 percent and 5 percent of annual earnings.
Our estimate is lower than some others the wedding industry has offered. WeddingWire’s Newlywed survey found that the average engagement ring cost $5,000. The Knot reported an average of $6,351 in its 2017 study. The Wedding Report, an independent wedding research company, found a median cost of $1,830 in its 2018 report. And an academic study of a small sample of couples in Ohio found that the median spent was $3,000.
Even with these generally higher figures, what is clear is that the three-month rule for engagement rings (which has roots in a brilliant marketing campaign) is very much an illusion.
“That guideline has sort of been tossed out the window,” said Amanda Gizzi, spokeswoman for the Jewelers of America, a nonprofit trade association. “It’s not anything anyone in the industry promotes today.”
She noted that the process of buying a ring has changed, too. More couples are shopping together and discussing what they want and what they can afford.
Lower-priced rings are not necessarily a bad thing for jewelers. A crucial strategy for luxury retailers is to offer less costly entry points, so that when the customers become wealthier, they will trade up for a more expensive item at the same store, said Antonio Achille, who leads the luxury team for McKinsey, the consulting firm.
Despite its emotional significance, an engagement ring is also part of a well-functioning market. “Engagement rings are 100 percent personal,” Gizzi said. “How much you have to spend is how much you have to spend, and you shouldn’t feel better or worse about your relationship because of it.”