At what Age is Someone Considered an Adult in the World?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

The age when someone can vote is usually used to determine when a person is considered an adult.
The age when someone can vote is usually used to determine when a person is considered an adult.

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.

In Germany, 16-year olds can vote in municipal elections and drink alcohol.
In Germany, 16-year olds can vote in municipal elections and drink alcohol.

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.

A Jewish boy celebrates his bar mitzvah at the age of 13.
A Jewish boy celebrates his bar mitzvah at the age of 13.

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.

The age at which one can drink alcohol is often connected to the definition of "adult."
The age at which one can drink alcohol is often connected to the definition of "adult."

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.

Bangladesh allows children as young as 12 to work.
Bangladesh allows children as young as 12 to work.

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.

Austria allows 16 year olds to vote in municipal elections.
Austria allows 16 year olds to vote in municipal elections.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I live with a man who has a son that is 18 and lives at the dorms at college. His ex-wife says she wants custody of him.

Am I mistaken in the fact that when a young man turns 18 he is a legal adult whom no one has custody of? If I am mistaken in that could someone please enlighten me.


When are you considered an adult in France? A friend of mine who lives there has a fifteen year old daughter who can and wants to move to England without her parents' consent. Is this legal please?


I think the age of a young adult should be 20 because even though 18 and 19 year olds are in their late teens going on early adulthood, they are still teenagers. And teens generally graduate high school around 18 and 19 anyway, with the exception of those who skip grades or are held back a grade.

Drinking age should be 20, as most should be mature enough by this age but sadly I know this is not the case.

I blame some parents partially, society mostly and the system greatly.


Drinking age in spain is 18, not 16!


Legal drinking age in Spain is 18. I lived there for a year and a half and worked with high schoolers. I know what I'm talking about. However, is that enforced? Not particularly.


Suntan12- I agree. There is a huge debate about the legal drinking age in the United States. Some feel that it should be lowered to match when a person reaches the age of majority in the United States, which is 18 year of age.

People who oppose the restriction believe that adults that are 18 years of age can serve in the military and risk their lives in combat but not being allowed to drink alcoholic beverage sounds so insignificant compared to serving in the armed forces that they don’t understand why it is so.

Proponents of the legislation believe that forcing this restriction saves lives because statistics show that the leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults is automobile accidents. People in favor of the legislation feel that this measure protects lives and that should trump any other reason for or against the legislation.


Billad- I believe when one reaches the age of 18, one is considered in an adult, regardless of the state of residence.

A teenager that is 17 years old is considered a minor and must answer to a parent. The only exceptions might be with regards to marriage and quitting school.

Many states vary but the average age of consent for both is about 16 years old. But even once a teenager reaches adulthood there are still some restrictions placed upon them. For example, a person must be at least 21 years of age before they can consume alcoholic beverages.


What age in Oklahoma is a female considered an adult? If they run away from home? or if they commit a crime? A girl, 17, says she is an adult and does as she pleases?

Post your comments
Forgot password?