Any dedicated reader of the Sunday New York Times will tell you there are certain tropes that come up time and again in the Weddings/Celebrations pages, where some 200 couples duke it out each week for one of at most 40 spots in the most elite wedding section in America. But while everyone likes pointing out that Congressional staffers and Yale graduates seem over-represented, we've never had statistical evidence to prove our hunches -- until now. The section editor Robert Woletz has said that "the basic premise is that we're looking for people who have achievements. It doesn't matter what field these achievements are in." Yet, we readers have a nagging sense that if you're, oh I don't know, a homosexual Princeton graduate working at Davis Polk & Wardwell, your specific achievements give you a near guaranteed spot in the section. To actually prove it, we spent some time crunching numbers to figure out exactly how over-represented certain demographics are. We compared the numbers of a certain group -- say Harvard graduates -- featured in the wedding section between November 14, 2010 and November 13, 2011 to that group's percentage in the wider population. We tried to look only at the biographical tropes that have measurable populations. (While we'd love to test our theory that wearing hipster glasses gives you a leg up in the competition, it's hard to measure how many Americans actually wear the thick-rimmed frames.) We also only looked at a few categories we already suspected of being over-represented. (Unfortunately not a single person affiliated with Wal-Mart, Target, or Costco made an appearance on The Times's wedding pages during the period we looked at.) Our methodology sometimes required some estimation and extrapolation, and we'll explain it all down below, but basically, we aim to prove that you're not crazy. That gay Princeton grad from Davis Polk does in fact have a better than average chance of getting his nuptials featured in The Times. So for those who fit any of the below categories, here's our little guide to your odds of getting into the section:
- Your parents live in Greenwich, Connecticut:
Our rating: only mildly over-represented. Sometimes it feels like you had to be born in an elite suburb or vacation destination to get into the wedding section. We couldn't possibly identify all of the locales that trip our alarm on this, so we picked Greenwich, Connecticut, figuring that if a large number of Greenwich kids appeared in the section relative to their wider population, we'd have some broader indication that being born to a locale with a moneyed pedigree is generally a plus. Of the 2,640 people whose weddings were announced in the section during the period we analyzed, 11 of them had parents who identified themselves as living in Greenwich. (We also searched for neighborhoods in Greenwich like Cos Cob. You can't hide from us, Mr. and Mrs. Kantor!) There are 61,171 people living in Greenwich, according to the 2010 census. So while Greenwich residents make up roughly 0.02 percent of the U.S. population, their children made up 0.42 percent of the past year's wedding announcements. That's pretty over-represented, to be sure, but as you'll see, it's not the most overly represented category we found. Odds improvement: 21 times more likely than the average American.
- You graduated from an elite university.
Our rating: very over-represented. Again, we couldn't count up the number of alumni from every elite university in the world, so we picked Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to represent this category. All three schools give approximate numbers for their living alumni, including their graduate schools, so we compared this with the number of graduates (undergrad or graduate) that appeared in the wedding section in the year we examined. We found a whopping 9.4 percent of couples featured on the wedding page graduated from Harvard compared with 323,000 living alumni. (Even if all those grads were citizens, which they aren't, that would mean just 0.1 percent of the U.S. population has a Harvard degree, compared with the nearly 10 percent of people in the wedding section. Quite the advantage.) 5.8 percent of couples in the section graduated from Yale, compared with 167,000 living alumni. And 3.6 percent of couples graduated from Princeton compared with 84,000 living alumni. That means Princeton has slight leg up over Yale which has a slight advantage over Harvard, though they are all pretty comparable. The larger point is that an insane proportion of The New York Times wedding section is given over to graduates from these three schools. When we add up all three schools, we find 18 percent of people who appeared in the wedding section had a degree from at least one of them, compared with 0.18 percent of the U.S. population. (In reality there's a lot of overlap between living alums of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton and many aren't American so the percentage of the population with degrees from one of the three schools is probably lower, which makes our calculation of over-representation deceptively low.) Given the editor's emphasis on those who have shown achievement, it sort of makes sense that the paper would look for easy signals of success like a degree from a big name university. Odds improvement: 100 times more likely than the average American.
- You are a Congressional staffer.
Our rating: pretty over-represented. We investigated this particular trope after Roll Call wrote an article declaring that Congressional staffers "have an in" on the wedding page. Kristin Broughton observed, "In the past year, legislative directors, committee counsels and those at the top of the Capitol career ladder have graced The Times society pages at an average of once every other week." We don't know just how broadly Broughton defined those categories, but she probably at least included former staffers. We restricted our investigation to current staffers of congressmen, committees, or leadership offices, and found eight appearances on the wedding pages. While definitive, current numbers of total Hill staffers can be difficult to pin down, Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation used figures from previous years to estimate for us the number of current personal, committee, and leadership staff on the Hill to be about 13,000. So while the staffers make up just 0.004 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise 0.3 percent of couples on the wedding page. The sample size is a little small to draw real conclusions, but it still appears that Congressional staffers are over-represented, though slightly less than graduates of elite schools. Odds improvement: 75 times more likely than the average American.
- You are marrying someone of the same sex
Our rating: pretty over-represented (but it's complicated). In 2002, The Times opened their section up to same-sex partnerships, changing the section's name from "Weddings" to "Weddings/Celebrations." Since then, they have reliably featured gay couples almost every week. This year's numbers are likely affected by the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York and the spike in gay weddings that elicited, so we keep that in mind as we crunch the numbers. We found 98 same-sex couples out of 1,320 total couples. That's 7.4 percent. With the intricacies of same-sex coupling, it's hard to find a great point of comparison for the broader population. But the 2010 census found 131,729 married same-sex couples compared with 120 million total married couples, as estimated by the census. That makes same-sex couples just 0.1 percent of all married couples. Obviously, there are a lot of things affecting that number, like for instance, same-sex marriage still being illegal in many states. Nevertheless, The Times has made an effort to include gay couples, and it's worth noting that because there likely aren't as many same-sex couples as straight ones who are announcing weddings these days, they probably get an advantage in the announcement war. But using the problematic census numbers, which we assume undercount the number of possible same-sex partnerships that would be eligible for Times coverage, would overstate overrepresentation. Odds improvement: 74 times more likely than the average American.
- You are an elite lawyer
Our rating: insanely over-represented As in the other categories, we had to pick some representative firms to champion their category as a whole, and so we looked for lawyers from three elite New York law firms: Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Sullivan & Cromwell; and Davis Polk & Wardwell. In the past year, we found two Cravath lawyers, five Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers, and 11 Davis Polk lawyers whose weddings were announced by The Times. That means lawyers from these three firms made up 0.68 percent of couples on the page, compared with a near-zero percentage of the U.S. population. Davis Polk was the clear winner here among the firms. Its site lists 682 lawyers, which means that in just one year, 1.3 percent of its lawyers announced their wedding in The Times. That seems insane to us. And it means that if you're a Harvard Law grad who just doesn't feel secure enough in her chances of making it onto the page, head on over to Davis Polk & Wardwell which is so far the only category we've found that gives a person a near-lock on nabbing a Times wedding announcement. Odds improvement: 974 times more likely than the average American.
- You are an investment banker
It's harder to determine but our rating: only mildly over-represented. Occupy Wall Street sympathizers might be most curious to see whether being in the 1 percent on Wall Street not only guarantees systemic life advantages, but also a space on the coveted Times wedding page. (Okay, fine, they probably have other things on their minds.) It's easy to find numbers for lawyers at elite law firms, eliminating other staff with whom we're less concerned. At the sprawling international investment banks, however, getting accurate numbers for the kinds of employees we're looking at is near impossible. A spokeswoman for Credit Suisse helpfully isolated the bank's American employees from the global bank, putting the number at 9,987. (That number obviously includes a lot of support staff and other 99 percenters, so take it with some caution.) Seven Credit Suisse employees appeared in the wedding announcements in the past year, making 0.26 percent of couples on the page compared with .003 percent of the population. Again, over-represented, but nothing compared to the Davis Polk advantage. Though a Goldman Sachs spokesperson declined to give numbers beyond the approximate 35,000 worldwide employees listed on their web site, their numbers for American employees are probably at least reasonably comparable to Credit Suisse, and yet 22 Goldman employees appeared on the wedding page this year. So it seems there are differences of advantage between banks, but again, it's hard to compare that advantage to other categories like lawyers without more specific employment numbers from the banks. Odds improvement: 87 times more likely than the average American.
So there you have it. Obviously, each category posed some data collection difficulties and issues of statistical significance with the sample size likely abound in places. There's also no easy way to rule out a self-selection bias. (Theoretically, 9.4 percent of the people who want to be in the wedding section could have Harvard degrees...) Still, we intended this as a fun exercise to scratch the itch of all those wedding announcement enthusiasts who wanted a little hard data to back up their hunches. We're big wedding section fans here, so we're not intending this as a corrective for The Times. They can go ahead and pick their lucky couples however they like. The Times's own public editor said people watch the page because the couples provide, "sociological raw material reflecting the rise of new elites and the decline of old," so it's nice to understand better just who comprises that new elite.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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