Last week, Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown hinted that she and her boyfriend Jake Bongiovi were engaged. The apparent announcement sent the internet into a frenzy of memes and debates. An entire generation has vicariously watched her grow up, so the news came as a complete surprise. Twitter users flooded timelines with “She is 19 and engaged but…” to compare their own lives with Millie’s. Some fans were happy for the couple – if they’re in love and know what they want, then strangers online should forever hold their peace. But many others expressed concern over the disadvantages of early marriage. Is Millie, who is 19, too young to marry 20-year-old Jake?
She is 19 and engaged. I’m 25 and I just cried in front of my mom because she isn’t letting me drink coffee.
— Deity (@gharkakabutar) April 11, 2023
“Marriage, today, is not the main priority for young people,” Ananya, 20, told Springtide. “There are many other avenues one may want to explore. Priorities have changed and they go more towards building a career, finding yourself or even just taking time to figure out what you want. It’s important to not rush into anything, not just marriage.”
The Indian Gen Z seems to be steadily turning away from the idea of marriage entirely. A 2022 report found that the percentage of the unmarried male youth population (ages 15-29) in India rose from 20.8% in 2011 to 26.1% in 2019. They observed similar trends for women as well. According to the 2020 YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey, 23% of Indian Gen Z youth don’t want marriage or children.
Financial insecurity came out as a major factor in these results. Many young people dream of establishing themselves or at least setting out on a career path before turning their attention to marriage.
“Rich people don’t have the same things to worry about,” Saachi, 21, said. “They can skip through all the stages that the rest of us go through. Millie Bobby Brown could have two kids right now if she wants to because she has the money to take care of them. As long as you’re rich, you can really do anything at any stage of your life. The normal rules just don’t apply to you.”
However, there’s another argument that surfaces often in such discussions, and it has to do with biology and neuroscience. The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for cognitive behaviour and decision-making, does not fully develop until age 25. That could be why research shows that people who tie the knot at 20 are 50% more likely to get a divorce than those who marry at 25. If your own brain is not yet in a position to take major life decisions, what can you really trust?
ngl i kinda refuse to even consider the idea of marriage before my prefrontal cortex fully develops
— tampon 🦭 (@babytamagotchi) December 24, 2022
“People end up regretting a lot of decisions they thought were good as teenagers,” Sayali, 20, said. “It’s totally possible to fall in love and find your lifelong partner before that age, but why take the risk in this economy? There are live-in relationships, domestic partnerships and so many other ways to be with your partner other than marriage.”
Of course, it’s hard to generalise the rules for everyone. There are always exceptions where it works despite everything. Separation and divorce are also far less stigmatised today. So while it’s not an ideal conclusion in the least, young couples who marry early and regret it later will be less likely to stay in unhappy marriages forever, as compared to the previous generations.
At the end of day, Millie Bobby Brown and Jake Bongiovi are adults with the right to make their own decisions for the future of their relationship. No amount of opinionated social media users will change that. But the news has opened a fascinating floodgate. It’s interesting nonetheless to see what Gen Z youth take into consideration while thinking about marriage.