Hailey Baldwin was 21 when she signed up to be Mrs Justin Bieber and the mortal enemy of millions of girls the world over. Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones fame married Joe Jonas when she was 23 (and was engaged at 21). And Millie Bobby Brown, the 19-year-old British darling who won over fans acting in Stranger Things, has now enraged some of them simply by getting engaged. A scroll through the comments of her announcement post shows a stark split between the “What? Aren’t you like 15?” and “I married my best friend when I was 19. We’ve been married for almost 13 now” camps. (These are actual comments, by the way.)
Of course, this isn’t the first crop of famous young brides; Dolly Parton and Princess Diana were 20 when they were married, and Priscilla married Elvis at 21. More recently, Kim Kardashian first married at 19 and Britney Spears was 22. And only one of those matrimonies survived.
According to 2017 US Census data, this is largely expected, where the average divorce rate of Hollywood celebrities was 52%, compared to 23% for the wider population. Of course, there’s no way for us to know how ages play into this statistic, but it certainly hasn’t stopped stars from rushing to the altar at a tender young age.
Australians know a trend when they see one, too, albeit more slowly. According to the latest census, the ages of people getting married had been steadily increasing since the 1970s — but that "upward trend halted between 2018 and 2020".
A recent survey of Australians aged 15-24 found 70% of Gen Z-ers want to get married one day.
Men and women across the country are now getting hitched at 32 and 30.5 years respectively. While that isn’t Britney-Kardashian young by any means, the numbers are steadily decreasing, suggesting that perhaps ye olde marriage isn’t dead, after all.
That is certainly true for Ana*, a 23-year-old bride-to-be in Sydney, who tells us she’s the first of her friends to get married. “It’s exciting still, even though everyone saw this coming, for me it’s a celebration of our love,” she says.
Having been with her fiancé since she was 16, Ana doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on the single scene. Referencing Stoicism, Ana believes the fewer things to worry about, the better. “I’m lucky to have found what I wanted really early; it’s given me space and energy to thrive in other aspects of my life. Plus, I’d be rubbish at the apps anyway,” she says.
So, what’s the reason for this recent change in attitude? In one of the most comprehensive studies of marriage in Australia (aptly titled ‘Marriage in Australia’), the authors, Janeen Baxter, Belinda Hewitt and Judy Rose, examine the changing attitudes toward matrimony in the country. They observe that “marriage is no longer considered an essential foundation for raising children despite these substantial social shifts, however, marriage remains an aspiration for many young Australians.”
They attribute this sentiment to Late Modernity (also known as Liquid Modernity), which society is going through right now. Finding the right person has become more important, they argue, and so, there’s been a “revolution in what people expect from marriage and from relationships more broadly”. A recent survey of Australians aged 15-24 found 70% of Gen Z-ers want to get married one day as opposed to the mere 8% who don’t have the marriage bug.
Queenslander Jack Hawley was 24 when he married his girlfriend of four years in 2018. Now 29 and divorced, Jack doesn’t regret tying the knot young (although he wouldn’t recommend it to his son). “At the time, it felt like the right thing to do but we turned out to be different people and that’s not a bad thing,” he tells Refinery29 Australia.
After a string of underwhelming jobs, Jack is about to study biochemical engineering and has been dating on and off. While each subsequent relationship taught him a lesson, it was his divorce that kickstarted it all. “That was the best thing that ever happened, ever…It set me on the path to being a better person,” he says. “We got too comfortable and the ugly sides of us showed up and never left.”
Dyanna Hunt, a relationship counsellor in Sydney’s east, sees more breakups than marriages and is witnessing firsthand the split of a young couple; her 25-year-old son and his girlfriend of nearly five years. “She said nothing had happened and he was the perfect boyfriend, but they were asking, ‘Where do we go now?’,” Dyanna says.
Like her son’s ex-girlfriend, many of Dyanna’s clients are young, driven women who aren’t settling down. From career ambitions to biological clocks, and social media to dating apps, life can feel like a juggling act on a tightrope for women.
While true love sounds ideal, legal experts advise you to take the rose-coloured glasses off before walking down the aisle young. Joining financial forces can help with buying a property or surviving the cost of living crisis but Amelia Coutts, a divorce lawyer, advises, “If I was getting married at a young age, I would be keeping records of my own financial affairs on an online cloud service [for] if we do separate.”
Unsurprisingly, the divorce expert has seen an uptick in separations and initial consultations since the lockdowns, with most clients being older couples. She suspects legal fees can deter younger couples from divorcing and a lot of them aren’t mixing their finances to begin with.
So, if money isn’t a concern for the celebrities we mentioned at the outset, why the rush? It seems whether you have your own Wikipedia page or not, we all just want the same thing. Our relationship guru Dyanna believes big shots are simply filling a void since “every other aspect in their life is fulfilled”. It’s comforting to know no amount of money or celebrity can help you dodge Cupid’s arrow — love conquers us all.