‘Marriage or Mortgage?’: how reality TV is banking on millennials being broke


The new reality show Marriage or Mortgage? premiered on Netflix during March of 2021, and quickly became one of the most-watched series on the platform, immediately generating an influx of both praise and critique. Whilst premised on the cheerful notion of a couple getting either their dream house or their dream wedding, it appears to have deeper embedded connections to wider societal dilemmas. The show clearly does not aim to be an economic commentary on capitalism, yet it still leaves the audience wondering how the ‘American Dream’ has become so vastly unobtainable. This forces us to ask: are such traditional life ‘milestones’ still applicable in modern-day society? 

The debut 10-episode series centres around a pair of hosts, real estate agent Nichole Holmes and wedding planner Sarah Miller, whose sarcastic and witty rapport is a highlight of the show. Nonetheless, the rate at which couples chose a wedding over a house left viewers entirely stunned. The majority of the couples featured are living at home with family or with roommates to be able to afford rent. On top of this, the price of weddings has soared in recent times. This is due to a myriad of factors: increasing personalisation, larger guest lists and overarching extravagance.

Social media has added to the pressure of creating an event that is worthy of sharing

According to WeddingWire’s Newlywed report in 2019, the average price of a wedding dress was $1,700, catering was $6,700, and the venue was $9,000. Social media has added to the pressure of creating an event that is worthy of sharing. This series showcases some immensely extravagant choices, from an Instagram doughnut wall to a personalised flower crown-making station to a helicopter entrance and exit. The significance of a wedding is immensely important for many couples, however with these prices you do have to wonder whether this is a viable financial endeavour. 

The fact that a younger audience may watch this show and feel that these are their only choices in order to have a fulfilled life is truly terrifying. A marriage and owning a house are completely valid life goals, but they should not be presented as the only options. Moreover, the emotional manipulation that is interwoven throughout the show when the couples are making these life-changing choices is beyond blatant.

Whilst sentimental backstories are a classic trope of any reality TV show, the overtness with which this show uses them is unparalleled as by episode two the real estate agent is staging the kitchen with handwritten recipes from a deceased father. Whilst the couples showcased consented to discuss such topics, ranging from deaths to infertility to religion, is a reality show the right forum for such sensitive topics? 

A marriage and owning a house are completely valid life goals, but they should not be presented as the only options.

On the other hand, some may argue that bringing these topics into mainstream media sparks dialogue. For example, the show does have to be credited for its LGBTQ+ representation, with two lesbian couples being featured. It was particularly fascinating to see a lesbian pastor involved in the show, reinforcing the intersectionality between religion and sexuality. Marriage within the queer community is a lot more poignant, as for years they’ve has had to fight for their love to be viewed as equal.

Incorporating these modern lifestyle choices shows how marriage, an institution that is often viewed as archaic, is having to adapt. Overall, sadly, the queer representation does feel like a token effort, and if the show continues hopefully they can expand to incorporate more members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Finally, the timing of the show’s debut has to be examined, with it being filmed pre-Covid-19 but being released during the pandemic. Hindsight is a virtue as had all the couples known that in a matter of months they would be stuck at home and unable to host large-scale events then the choice would have been made for them. Additionally, some may argue that releasing a show that flaunts large, spacious houses during a time when many are unemployed and cannot afford rent is entirely insensitive. The fact these couples even have this choice at their disposal is a very privileged position that many, especially in light of Covid-19, could not dream of having. It is up to you to decide, is Marriage or Mortgage? the lighthearted, binge-worthy escapism we all could use during these uncertain times or an out-of-touch, irrelevant spectacle that should never have been aired?

Image Credits: Michael Rowen via Flikr

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