At CulturalWorld, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
The age at which a person is considered an adult varies significantly in the different countries of the world. Much depends upon what constitutes being an adult. Most look to an age at which children can legally work, marry, vote, buy alcohol, be drafted, or be charged with a crime, as the adult age.
Great variance exists as to the age when one can work in different countries. When this is a factor of considering one an adult, the age can range from no laws at all, as in countries like Papua New Guinea, Yemen and Liberia.
Other countries set minimum age requirements for child labor. The lowest exist in countries like Syria, Paraguay, or Bangladesh, where minimum age is 12. Many work in developing countries begin work prior to reaching the minimum legal age, however. Most countries set minimum age at 15-16 years old. In a few cases, the minimum age may be 14. This compares to US figures where minimum age ranges from 15-16, and generally, one must have permission from parents to work prior to being 18 and being considered an adult.
Age of marriage, which is often considered the time at which one becomes an adult in certain countries, also shows great variance. In some countries there is no minimum age. Again, most countries set the minimum at 18. There are huge exceptions to this rule.
For example, in many African countries, such as Niger, Mozambique, and Mali, over 50% of girls are married prior to turning 18. In Yemen, 64% of girls are married before 18, and in Bangladesh, 81% of girls marry before 18. These figures often coincide with child labor laws that allow children to work at a young age. In these cases, many girls marry just after menarche (their first menstruation), and some marry prior to puberty. A married person, is for most intents and purposes, considered an adult.
In most countries, legal voting age is also set at 18 and defines who is an adult. A few countries espouse an earlier or later voting age. Some countries like Austria and Germany allow 16 year olds to vote in municipal elections. In Italy, however, one cannot vote to elect a senator, unless one is 25. Liechtenstein voters must wait until they are 30 to vote.
Another common litmus test for determining when one is an adult is the age at which one can purchase alcohol. The US figure of 21 is actually quite high. In some countries, alcohol can be purchased by anyone, but it is not treated with the same “rite of passage” reverence given by countries with a minimum drinking age. In the majority of countries, drinking age is 18. A few countries, including Spain, France, Austria, and Germany set drinking age at 16. Some countries allow children under the drinking age to consume alcohol but not purchase it.
Age can affect when children are considered criminally responsible, or an adult in the eyes of the law. It is perhaps not surprising that countries with low age for marriage, drinking or child labor assess criminal responsibility as early as seven. Yet, the United States also considers seven year olds as criminally responsible, and possibly able to be charged as an adult. This is rare, but not impossible. Frequently, age of criminal responsibility rests at around 7-14 years old.
A person may also be considered an adult if he or she is drafted or volunteers for military service. In most countries this age is 18, though a few countries set the age at 16 or 17.
In different countries, cultures may also determine that someone is an adult before legal ages for adulthood apply. For example coming of age ceremonies for Jewish children, bat or bar mitzvahs occur when a child is 13. As well, many families of Mexican descent have coming of age parties for their 15 year old daughters, called quinceaneras. Many local traditions consider a child an adult long before a child is legally considered an adult.
Frequently Asked Questions
At what age is someone legally considered an adult worldwide?
The age at which someone is legally considered an adult varies by country, but it is commonly set at 18 years old. This is the age of majority in many jurisdictions, which means individuals are recognized as legal adults and are responsible for their actions and decisions. However, some countries may have different ages for specific rights or responsibilities, such as the legal drinking age or the age to vote.
Are there countries where the legal adulthood age is higher than 18?
Yes, there are countries where the age of legal adulthood is higher than 18. For example, in Bahrain, the age of majority is 21. These variations often reflect cultural, legal, and societal differences in the perception of when an individual is ready to handle adult responsibilities.
Can the age of adulthood differ within a country for different legal purposes?
Absolutely. Within a single country, the age at which one is considered an adult can differ for various legal purposes. For instance, in the United States, a person is typically considered an adult at 18 for voting and contractual purposes, but the legal drinking age is 21. This reflects a distinction between general legal responsibilities and specific age-related regulations.
How does the age of adulthood impact the legal rights of individuals?
Reaching the age of adulthood has significant legal implications for individuals. It typically confers the right to vote, marry without parental consent, sign contracts, and be tried in court as an adult. It also means that one can be held fully responsible for their actions under the law and can face adult penalties for criminal offenses.
Are there any global trends in changing the age of adulthood?
While the age of adulthood remains stable in many countries, there are global discussions and occasional shifts in legal age thresholds. For example, some countries have debated lowering the voting age to 16 to encourage youth participation in democracy. However, such changes are not widespread and the age of 18 remains the standard for adulthood in most of the world.