ECONOMY - 28 AUG 2019

The Economics of Aso Ebi at Nigerian Weddings

The Economics of Aso Ebi at Nigerian Weddings
Aso-ebi used by the bridal party visible in this photo from a Nigerian wedding

Not all prices are created equal

The popular IMAX cinema in Lekki charges around ₦3,500 for a 3D movie. The same ticket is ₦1,000 cheaper for children, while students and youth corpers also get discounted prices. This is a standard example of price discrimination, where businesses charge different prices to customers buying the same product.

This pricing strategy is very common. For example, you pay more when you book an Uber during peak periods, and you most likely paid a different price to your seat-neighbour the last time you were on a flight—perhaps because you booked your ticket at the last minute.

The concept of price discrimination can be found in many walks of life. And as it turns out, a recent trend in Aso Ebi (“family clothes”) purchases for middle and upper-class Nigerian weddings provides another example.  

 

The Tale of Aso-Ebi

So, how does this happen?

Well, in the earlier examples, price discrimination works well when businesses can segment their customers. Peak time users of Uber are willing to pay more, usually to go between home and work. And those that book plane tickets at the last minute are more desperate and less price-sensitive. There are almost always different segments of customers. 

Aso Ebi has become a handy signal for revealing what “segment” wedding guests belong to; for example, the style of Aso Ebi can indicate if you are affiliated to the bride or the groom. Wedding guests are probably treated differently (for instance, what type of food they are served) depending on if they are wearing the Aso Ebi, so if you “paid” to attend the wedding you get better treatment.

However, segmentation doesn't stop there. 

As with the cinema example, you can have two types of customers pay different prices to get the same service. The cinema experience is identical for the student. 

This happens at weddings as well, and this is where ladies are singled out. In the past, Aso Ebi was gender-neutral and intended to signify solidarity during special occasions. In modern society, Aso Ebi is targeted more towards women—and their purses.

 

No money, no Aso Ebi

To attend an affluent Nigerian wedding, women pay around ₦25,000 for roughly 5 yards of fabric to secure the preferential treatment and status conferred by Aso Ebi. Men, however, can get away with only paying around ₦2,500 for a cap which gets them the same experience.

You might argue that the woman pays more since she gets more fabric than the man. But then this begs the question of why women don’t just get charged for a ₦2,500 gele.

There are social and economic explanations for why women pay more than men to get similar weddings experiences. According to price discrimination theory, consumers are charged based on their willingness to pay. If we assume that women value “looking good” more than men, then wedding organisers and tailors alike can satisfy women by providing a richer Aso Ebi option. This theory has also been used to explain why women buy wedding dresses they are never going to wear again, while men rent tuxedos they could wear multiple times.  

On another note, wedding-goers would dispute that men and women have identical wedding experiences. For example, women sometimes get better souvenirs. Going back to the plane example, this would be more similar to the difference between a First Class and Economy ticket—both passengers arrive at the destination but after vastly different trips.

It could be that when women pay more, we secure a better experience at weddings than men. However, unlike a First Class plane ticket, it is doubtful that the extra souvenirs adequately compensate women for the more expensive Aso Ebi.

However you spin it, weddings are expensive for women.

Are women satisfied with the expenses incurred to enjoy Nigerian weddings or do we continue paying more to join the Aso Ebi gang simply because society demands us to? Will some women be happier to pay for the ₦2,500 gele option?

 

The Pink Tax?

In short, the tale of Aso Ebi might be teaching us a different lesson, one that reflects how differently women are treated in and by society.  

While we have explored the economic rationale behind women paying more for Aso Ebi, we also have to question how much of this is rooted in the so-called pink tax.  Why is the choice for women the option where they have to pay so much more than men for an entire outfit? At this point, we should be asking why men aren't also expected to make their entire wedding outfits using Aso Ebi as well. 

And it’s not just weddings. Essential items like razor blades and deodorant are more expensive for women than for men, even when there is no other difference except who uses them. Women might enjoy “dressing up” more, but it still requires a leap to say that justifies being saddled with the responsibility of buying a whole new outfit every time you are invited to a wedding. At this point, it is worth pointing out that price discrimination that is economically rational may not necessarily be fair. Coca Cola’s plan to have vending machines charge more for cold drinks on hot days backfired for this reason.

Moreover, the economic implications of this are significant. In Nigeria, women earn ₦0.77 for every naira their male counterparts take home for doing the same work. When you consider this along with the consumption gap, the inequality between the two genders widens

Imagine a female worker earning ₦250,000. She is then expected to spend not just ₦25,000 on Aso Ebi but also pay her Lekki tailor an additional ₦25,000 to make her outfit. And we still haven’t factored in the opportunity cost of the time and effort spent fitting these outfits because Nigerian tailors struggle to get things right the first few times. That’s 20% of her income gone in a month. Most times, it is highly unlikely she will ever wear this outfit again; so if she gets invited to 10 weddings in a year? Well, you do the math.

She could downgrade to the “economy” wedding package and not wear the Aso Ebi. However, often, when the bride or groom is a close family member or a friend, Nigerian values could class it as disrespectful.

So it seems there is no winning here. First, women don’t get paid as much, then face a higher cost of living when dealing with weddings and other purchases.

The cinema example above showed economics considering the limited purchasing power of students and children relative to adults. We have to wonder why women are not given similar treatment, even though we have fewer economic advantages than our male counterparts.

 

Fadekemi Abiru

Fadekemi Abiru

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