Australia From relationships to home ownership, young women are imagining a different future
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Jacinta Gregory isn't sure she wants to get married — but if she does, she knows what it will look like.
"When I see myself getting married, I see myself getting married to a woman and it makes me really sad to think that my dad won't be there. Because he won't," she said.
"He won't if I invite him or if I didn't, it doesn't make a difference because the end result is he won't be there, which is sad because even though we have a fractured relationship, it's still a relationship that I still place value on and is a big part of my life."
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Ms Gregory is one of many young women who now say marriage is an outdated institution.
Between 2019 and 2021 there has been an 11 percentage point increase in the number of 18-29 year old women who believe marriage is an outdated institution, according to the Australia Talks National Survey.
That now means 43 per cent of women in that age bracket think marriage is outdated.
Ms Gregory, originally from Campbelltown in Sydney's south-west, said her thoughts on the institution were a long way from the ideas she was brought up with.
"My Dad wanted us to be very Christian, she said.
"He didn't want us to have sex before marriage, instead do the Catholic thing, right? Meet someone, fall in love, get engaged then and only then are you allowed to have sex."
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The future she imagines for herself is very different to that.
That includes her living arrangements, which like many young women she does not see involving home ownership anytime soon.
Seventy-four per cent of people aged of 18-24 think owning a home isn't really an option anymore for most young Australians.
But that number jumps up for young women, 82 per cent of whom don't think home ownership is an option.
But while being locked out of the housing market can be frustrating, Ms Gregory has made peace with it.
"I live currently with two other women who are some of my closest friends in the whole goddamn world," she said.
"We call each other wives, it is a platonic friendship but filled with so much love and devotion that it feels romantic a lot of the time.
"I had this realisation recently where if the rest of my life is me living in this apartment with two of the loves of my life and was never dating romantically again — maybe one day we help each other raise a baby or something — I think I would actually look back on my life and be quite happy and quite thrilled.
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"I don't know if everyone can say the same thing."
Taking the plunge
While there is a shift towards the belief marriage is outdated in young women, around half of Australia Talks respondents (51 per cent) disagreed with the statement, including 38 per cent of women aged 18-24.
Eighteen per cent of women in this age bracket were neutral.
Mannie Kaur Verma, a lawyer from Melbourne, always felt like she was going to get married when she found the right partner, even if it wasn't exactly what her parents wanted.
"I wasn't allowed to date and it was sort of set that once I would reach a certain age, like 23, 24, 25, that's when I would be allowed to date or look for a man," she said.
"Until I finished my studies, I wasn't really allowed to date."
But when Ms Kaur Verma met the right person, she didn't hesitate and was married at the age of 21.
"My parents, they felt that I was too young and that I should wait it out," she said.
"Some relatives, they didn't attend the wedding, they thought that we were too young to get married.
"I don't think age makes a difference. If you feel that you're ready for it and you're ready to take on the responsibility, then there's no reason why not."
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She also made another big life decision at an early age, and at 28 is a mother to two young children.
She said she understood that for many other young people, the financial burden of having children at a young age when work can be unstable could be challenging.
She credited the support of family for helping her and her partner.
"When we had my daughter, we asked my husband's parents to come from overseas to come and live with us," she said.
"Now we can't imagine living without them.
"Childcare is expensive in Australia and so people are not able to afford it and they don't always have the support of family members to look after the kids, so it can have a major impact."
She said that while she completely understood why others would not choose marriage or starting a family at all — let alone at a younger age — for her making those big life commitments early on had been empowering.
"When I make a decision at work or generally in life, at the back of my mind is always, well, what will my kids think about this or what sort of example am I setting for them?"
Taking the time to figure it out
Nina, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, said she had put a lot of thought into the kind of relationships she wanted to have.
"My family is from China and I think we like try and stick fairly close to our roots," she said.
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"A companion to that vague traditionalism is also like a traditionalism about like gender and family."
She took some time before having relationships, but after she began dating at university she entered a polyamorous relationship.
At the time, she was still living at home.
"I had to do a lot of covering up, actually — lying is such a strong word, but that is essentially what I was doing.
"I don't feel that much guilt about that, partly because I guess those felt like experiences that I should have been having at that age."
She said that a long-term monogamous partner was not something that was off the table yet, and starting a family has not been entirely ruled out, but she is wary of both.
Seventy-four per cent of women surveyed by Australia Talks do not believe having children is essential to finding fulfillment in life, but just 48 per cent of men hold that view.
"My mum, I think still expects that my brother and I will get married and have children, despite both of us at various points in time saying that one or both of those things won't happen.
"Seeing a lot of women having had children and feeling like they do the vast majority of the child-rearing work, more say their male partners for example, I think that's something that does scare me a lot."
The Australia Talks National Survey asked 60,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them up at night. Use ourto see the results and how your answers compare.
Then, tune in at 8:00pm on Monday, June 21 to watch hosts Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain take you through the key findings and explore the survey with some of Australia's best-loved celebrities.
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