What Drove the Last Big Surge in Weddings in 1984?

This year, nearly 2.5 million weddings are expected to take place in the United States. That total, which comes from the Wedding Report, a trade group in Tucson, Ariz., is a bump not seen since 1984.

If George Orwell had known that, he might have changed the plot of his classic novel “1984,” published in 1949. Mr. Orwell, who married twice before his death at age 47 in 1950, was long gone before the year he made famous was made famous again by nearly 2.5 million newly married couples.

But who were they?

Robert Woletz, who started writing for The New York Times wedding pages in the late 1980s, said, “Many of the answers to questions regarding the people and/or reasons for the 1984 wedding boom were right there in the stories” that The Times published about weddings that year. He noted it was a time when most baby boomers had reached a marrying age; that generation, born between 1946 and 1964, were by then between the ages of 20 and 38.

A significant portion of the section’s stories back then, according to Mr. Woletz, who went on to run the weddings coverage from 1994 to 2016, focused on a generation of college-educated women. And many were getting married a little later, a shift that Marcy Blum, a wedding planner in Manhattan, said the 1972 debut of Ms. magazine — and the women’s movement as a whole — helped set in motion.

“By 1984, many women who subscribed to that magazine were of a similar mind-set,” said Ms. Blum, who began working as a wedding planner in 1986. “They wanted a better life and to be on equal footing with men in terms of salary, and they wanted to get married, but only when the time was right for them.”

“The disappearance of the hippie generation” was another contributing factor to the wedding boom of 1984, said Ms. Blum, who noted that she was speaking from experience.

“My friends and I were living in communes,” she said. “But then there came this resurgence of monogamous commitments, and the concept of yearning to go back to the wholesome, good old days of goody-goodies like Donna Reed.”

Amadu Jacky Kaba, a professor of sociology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., referred to the 1984 weddings bonanza as a “phenomenon,” adding that “a big factor in this phenomenon is Ronald Reagan.”

President Reagan, he said, “came to office as a public conservative president,” in an “era when Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan rose to power and influence through the counterrevolution and the Moral Majority movement.”

“Reagan publicly supported these conservative leaders and their efforts to preserve ‘traditional family values,’” said Dr. Kaba, which were often tied to marriage. “Then Reagan and his wife, Nancy, also promoted marriage through their public interactions as a stable, married couple,” he said.

Dr. Kaba added that President Reagan’s platform resonated with the general public: It was popular enough for him to win 49 out of 50 states in the 1984 presidential election, “with conservative ‘Reagan Democrats’ voting for him” too, he said.

And of course in 1984 there was another infectious disease that was a public health crisis: H.I.V. The disease it causes, AIDS, had rapidly instilled a fear of multiple sexual partners among both gay and straight people.

Popular culture was also an influencing factor. Christine Hagedorn, an assistant professor of business and the chairwoman of the business department at Rosemont College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., whose research overlaps with other subjects including sociology and finance, said that marriage was a central theme of the popular television show “Family Ties,” which premiered in 1982. It “focused on a married couple who successfully transitioned away from rebellious ’70s values toward more family-oriented conservative values centered around marriage.”

A year earlier, the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, viewed on television by 750 million people around the world, said Mr. Woletz, “was surely a contributing factor” that glamorized weddings for a number of people “who would tie the knot three years later.”

Finally, as with so many things, a spike in weddings often correlates to a good economy. In 2021 the U.S. economy grew 5.7 percent from the year before — the largest gain since, you guessed it, 1984.

“In a booming economy, we see an increase in gross domestic product, increased personal income and lower unemployment,” said Jiaxing Jiang, an adjunct professor of economics at Rosemont College.

“People in such an economy tend to have more confidence in their ability to support a family, buy a home, so it seems natural they would have more confidence in planning a wedding and more ability to pay for the wedding due to the high employment,” Dr. Jiang said.