updated 7 Nov 2012, 05:46
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Wed, Oct 03, 2012
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Too young to say I do?
by Alison de Souza

The recent announcement that singer-actress Miley Cyrus, 19, and actor Liam Hemsworth, 22, were getting hitched sparked a debate on whether they were too young to tie the knot.

The concern? Well, as one of Hollywood's brightest young stars, Cyrus has influenced a legion of fans since her role as Disney's Hannah Montana. As she is regarded as a role model, there is concern that her engagement to the young Australian, who starred in teen hit film The Hunger Games, has set a bad example.

If statistics are anything to go by, getting married in your teens seems to be a bad decision.

Scholars say early marriage is the No. 1 predictor of divorce in many developed countries, and surveys in the United States and elsewhere confirm this.

A 2002 report by the Centers for Disease Control in the United States revealed that 48 per cent of American below 18 and 40 per cent of 18- and 19-year-olds who get married end up divorced within 10 years. By comparison, only 24 per cent of those who marry at age 25 and older split up.

So although Cyrus told People magazine she was "so happy to be engaged, and looks forward to a life of happiness with Liam", the odds appear to be against the two. A report released earlier this year, which looked at first marriages in the US between 2006 and 2010, where the average age for first marriages was 25.8 for women and 28.3 for men, confirmed this. It showed that those who get married before 20 have a lower chance of reaching their 20th wedding anniversary.

Other findings suggest that young people's chances of a long and happy marriage might improve if they waited just a few years. A University of Texas study done a few years ago found that those who wed when between the ages of 22 and 25 went on to experience the happiest marriages.

Teen marriages seem more likely to flounder for several reasons. Sociologists from Penn State University said that in industrial or more wealthy, developed societies, those aged 18 to 25 "are expected to explore their identity, work and love by delaying marriage and parenthood".

"Those individuals who fail to postpone these family transitions miss out on better career opportunities, make poor choices on partners and may experience problems," they said.

Many young people believe this too, noted psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, because they think marriage marks the end of youthful adventure and the start of a more settled, boring life. This is why many delay marriage in favour of "identity exploration" and "self-focused development".

Education is believed to be a factor in divorce as well.

A study conducted by the University of Virginia found that those without a university degree were three times more likely to split up within the first decade of marriage compared with those with higher education, which neither Cyrus nor her beau have.

And since those in their teens are far less likely to have gone to university, this is another reason to be sceptical about young marriages.

For Cyrus and Hemsworth, added pressure may come from being in Hollywood, where marriages of young celebrities are often short-lived. Some examples include, the brief marriages of singers and actresses Britney Spears, Ashlee Simpson, Drew Barrymore, Reese Witherspoon and Kate Hudson at ages 22, 23, 19, 23 and 21, respectively. Even so, some have spoken out in support of the young couple.

That Cyrus is wealthy and has had to grow up fast to meet the demands of showbiz may help her.

She is, "for all intents and purposes, a functioning, successful adult", argued Huffington Post columnist Katelyn Mullen. "... Why shouldn't Miley get married? She already owns her own home, where she and fiance Liam Hemsworth have been living together and going about their business like, well, a happily married couple. Both she and Liam consistently work, building both of their bank accounts and resumes. They have been in a committed relationship for nearly three years and have shown few, if any, signs of having an unhappy or unhealthy relationship," she wrote.

Finally, couples who are still together and happy long after getting hitched in their teens said young marriages can work, especially if the couple have the support of their families and community. "As focused as we young adults are on self-development, what if the path to that development is actually learning to live with and love another person?" wrote David Lapp in The Wall Street Journal.

"We may be startled to find that the greatest adventure lies not in knowing oneself as much as in knowing and committing to another person."

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