Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth: Too young to get engaged?

Miley Cyrus, 19, and Liam Hemsworth, 22, announced their engagement today, raising questions about Hollywood's romanticized depiction of (too?) young marriage and its impressions on the average teenager.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth announced their engagement to People magazine today, sparking debate about whether they are too young to get married. Here, Hemsworth poses with Cyrus at the premiere of his film "The Hunger Games" at Nokia theatre in Los Angeles, California on March 12, 2012.

A 3.5-carat diamond ring and an Australian fiancé sound like a fairytale marriage, but teen pop star Miley Cyrus's engagement raises questions about the idealized dream she's modeling for the average teenager. In other words: Can teen marriages last?

Ms. Cyrus, 19, best known for her role as Disney channel’s “Hannah Montana,” recently got engaged to Liam Hemsworth, who she has dated since she was 16 and he was 19. Hemsworth, 22, is one of the three young stars of “The Hunger Games.”

People Magazine broke the news of the engagement Wednesday morning, which the Associated Press later confirmed. Cyrus told People, “I'm so happy to be engaged and look forward to a life of happiness with Liam.”

However, marriage statistics show that a lifetime of happiness hasn't worked out as well for other teens who marry.

According to a report on first marriages by the National Survey for Family Growth, women and men who get married in their teen years (before 20) have a lower probability of their first marriage reaching its 20th anniversary than those who wait until they are older. The study, released in March, looks at the trends and data in the timing of first marriages and their outcomes based on data from 2006 to 2010.  The median age for first marriage in the US is 25.8 for women and 28.3 for men.

Though there are several demographic factors that impact first marriage longevity – education level, cohabitation and timing for babies – the consensus is that those who marry after age 25, statistically speaking, have a higher probability of staying married longer.

Cyrus needs only look to her famous peers to realize that young marriage in Hollywood has some well-known failures that have become public spectacles. A few examples: Britney Spears who married Kevin Federline at 22, Ashlee Simpson who married Pete Wentz at 23, Reese Witherspoon who married Ryan Phillippe at 23, Kate Hudson who married Chris Robinson at 21, and Drew Barrymore who married Jeremy Thomas at 19.

The report says that marriage “is one of the primary events during the transition to adulthood.” Growing up as a famous teen, Cyrus has struggled with public perception about her transition from teen role model to mature (and also rebellious) adult. In a recent interview on Amanda de Cadenet’s Lifetime show “The Conversation,” Cyrus admitted that the media spotlight has influenced her own self-image about how to be successful in Hollywood, evidenced by her increasingly sexualized outfits and open conversations about sex.

Cyrus and Hemsworth met in 2009 while filming their movie “The Last Song,” based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. The movie made its cable television premiere on Sunday as part of a Nicholas Sparks marathon including “A Walk to Remember” and “The Notebook.”

Sparks’ novels (and their movie adaptations) showcase highly romanticized notions of love and relationships.  Sure his characters deal with relationship and personal “problems,” and despite some depressing storylines, he does not portray marriage in a way that conveys the day-to-day realities of what it takes to make it work.  But who would go to see that movie anyway?

Marriage and relationships in movies, especially those targeted for teen audiences, do little to teach impressionable teenagers about the maturity of adult relationships. Parents should be aware of the messages their kids receive from teen stars, both in real life and on the screen.

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