Barriers to Entry Crash Down: Weddings & an Earthquake

[This is a guest post by Kent Annan.]

A rush of marriages was a surprising response in the months after the disastrous Haiti earthquake a year ago.

My evidence is anecdotal and from a relatively small sample, but pretty strong (I know qualifiers like this are necessary for readers of my brother-in-law’s blog). When I started to pick up on all these marriages, I took a quick survey of my colleagues at a meeting. Many of them were involved in their churches:

“Yes, I’m doing a wedding for seven couples simultaneously on Saturday at my church.” “This weekend, I’m doing a service for four couples.” “There are five weddings at our church this weekend.”

And this was happening all over.

Why?

Many Haitians lived in common-law marriages because of two main barriers to entering into official marriage: (1) The man is expected to have a home for his wife, but that can be prohibitive when no mortgages are available to most people. (2) Most would be expected to do a church wedding and reception, another prohibitive cost when 80% of people live on less than $2 a day (pre-earthquake).

The earthquake brought these two barriers to entry crashing down. More than a million people were homeless in the Port-au-Prince area, so gone were some of the expectations for the couple having their own home. And with so much loss, there wasn’t the same expectations for a reception and the surrounding costs.

Along with these disappearing barriers, it seemed there were at least a couple of newly strengthened incentives too. Both of these had to do with wrestling with meaning in the months after (the subject of my new book After Shock).

First, getting married is a kind of affirmation, or celebration, of life — committing to someone else who also survived.

And because Haiti is such a spiritual place, a legit Christian marriage was also a chance for many to “get right with God” at a price point that before had been out of range.

It will be interesting to see if there is a lasting cultural shift about marriage. I also wonder what are other post-disaster examples of cultural barriers to entry collapsing and opening new opportunities for some people.

Kent Annan, author of After Shock (January 2011) and codirector of Haiti Partners. And, indeed, he’s on twitter and a blog.