As romantic as getting married young might be it might actually be healthier to wait a bit before walking down the aisle. A study has found that those who tie the knot before the age of 21 are more likely to develop a drinking problem. 

Academics assessed the marital status and alcohol habits of around 1 000 people who were genetically predisposed to developing a form of alcoholism. 

The results reveal that those who married young were at a much higher risk of binge drinking than those who got married at a more mature age. 

Previous studies have found that marriage can protect against alcohol abuse, but the new study suggests this is only true for older people. 


Getting married young is now highly uncommon in the UK, with less than 1,700 people getting betrothed as a teenager in 2019. 

This is in stark contrast to the middle of the last century, with more than 60,000 Britons getting married before their 20th birthday in 1950. 

British women now get married, on average, aged 35 while men don’t get hitched until 38, according to official statistics. 

Rebecca Smith, a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University in the US, an author of the study, said: ‘In a sample of young adults, we found that marriage was not uniformly protective against alcohol misuse. 

‘In fact, we found that early marriage (i.e., by age 21) seemed to exacerbate risk for alcohol use among individuals with a higher genetic predisposition.

‘Thus, early marriage does not have the same protective benefit in terms of attenuating genetic predispositions that has been observed for marriage later in adulthood.’


The researchers believe the correlation can be explained by considering the various factors that young people face when compared to older couples. 

Heavy episodic drinking — also known as binge drinking — may well be higher in young couples because ‘individuals who marry young may not be the best influences on one another’, says Ms Smith.     

‘When we stepped back to think about what we know about development and developmental psychology, our findings made more sense,’ she said. 

‘Traditional life events, such as marriage and parenthood, tend to occur during certain periods in life.

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‘So when those types of events occur either earlier or later in life than is typical (in American culture), they may not be as protective as we would expect.’  

The research is due to be published in the journal Development and Psychopathology.