Are you legally an adult at 18 or 21?
January 20, 2010 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Is there an accepted, universal age of majority? Is it 21 or 18? Does it vary by state?
posted by Jenna Brown to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
According to Wikipedia, it varies by state.
posted by nitsuj at 1:16 PM on January 20, 2010

Just about everything in all states flips to "adult" at 18 - contracts, etc. Obviously that's not 100% universal - alcohol isn't enabled until you're 21 - but yes, at 18, in all 50 states, you're an adult.

I am not your lawyer, or anyone's lawyer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:16 PM on January 20, 2010

...I stand corrected; it's only 18 in 47 states, apparently.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:17 PM on January 20, 2010

Are you asking this question about the age of majority internationally or just in the United States? The inclusion of both "universal" and "state" in your question is a bit confusing.

If it's international, then no. For example, Canada has two drinking ages (19 and 18) depending on the province, but for most other things, the age of legal adulthood is 18.
posted by carmen at 1:24 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it's international, then no.

Yeah exactly. Also what do you mean by 'majority'? In New Zealand you can drive at 15, have sex (and I think leave school) at 16 and vote and drink at 18. You can also become a prostitute at 18 and just generally do things without parent's permission (get married, leave home, both of which can be done at 16 with permission).

The first two are pretty grown up activities but I assume 18 would be your cutoff as that's also when you can sign your own cheques and contracts. I read the wikipedia article but am still a little confused about which exact cutoff counts, but probably the one about signing contracts?
posted by shelleycat at 1:49 PM on January 20, 2010

Yeah, it really varies by what you mean. More examples: children in the foster care system don't generally age out of services until they turn 21. And many child support agreements cover offspring until they are 21 or have graduated from college.
posted by decathecting at 2:15 PM on January 20, 2010

The "age of consent" in Japan is 16.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:12 PM on January 20, 2010

To follow-up on shelleycat, in NZ you have to be 20 to go into a casino. You can be a drunk high school dropout gun wielding married prostitute, but you can't go play roulette till your twenty. (I think I'm right on the gun owning)
posted by Suspicious Ninja at 3:48 PM on January 20, 2010

Depends on what we're talking about. For the vast majority of states, it's eighteen, end of story. But some states have a different age--usually nineteen or twenty-one--for the purposes of their juvenile justice systems and family laws.

That being said, if you mean the date at which a person can enter into a legally binding contract on their own authority, then yes, it's eighteen in every state. This is firmly established in common law.

Relatedly, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment established the national voting age at 18 in 1971.
posted by valkyryn at 4:24 PM on January 20, 2010

In many states you have to be 21 to own a gun.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:40 PM on January 20, 2010

You do not have full adult rights in the U.S. until you reach the age of 35.
posted by jock@law at 5:02 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

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