Ages of majority (2023):
  21 or older
  16 or younger

The age of majority is the threshold of legal adulthood as recognized or declared in law.[1] It is the moment when a person ceases to be considered a minor and assumes legal control over their person, actions, and decisions, thus terminating the control and legal responsibilities of their parents or guardian over them. Most countries set the age of majority at 18, but some jurisdictions have a higher age and others lower. The word majority here refers to having greater years and being of full age as opposed to minority, the state of being a minor. The law in a given jurisdiction may not actually use the term "age of majority". The term typically refers to a collection of laws bestowing the status of adulthood. Those under the age of majority are referred to as minors and are legally forbidden from enjoying certain privileges or rights (e.g. the right to vote, buy and/or drink alcohol, marry, sign a binding contract). There are other exceptions, however, in which also those who have reached the age of majority can be referred to as minors. For example, if a country's age of majority is 18, but the legal drinking age is 21, then a 20 year old would still be considered a "minor" in situations involving buying or consuming alcohol. Another example is the age to consent to sexual activity, that in most of the cases in the world is under the age of majority, however, in other cases it can be even above the age of majority and even in that case the younger part, despite having already reached the legal adulthood, would be still referred to as minor or underage to consent to sexual activity.[2][3][4]

If a minor attempts to use these privileges, they could be prosecuted as a criminal and sentenced to fines or imprisonment in a youth detention center.

Age of majority should not be confused with the age of maturity, age of sexual consent, age of criminal responsibility, marriageable age, school-leaving age, legal working age, drinking age, driving age, voting age, smoking age, gambling age, etc., which each may be independent of and set at a different age from the age of majority.


The term "age of majority" can be confused with the similar concept of the age of license,[5] which also pertains to the threshold of adulthood but in a much broader and more abstract manner. As a legal term of art, "license" means "permission", which leads to implications of a legally enforceable right or privilege. Thus, an age of license is an age at which one has legal permission from a given government to participate in certain activities or rituals. The age of majority, on the other hand, is a legal recognition that one is gradually becoming an adult, not necessarily stating that one is legally allowed to partake in any or all activities specified for adults.[6]

Many ages of license are correlated to the age of majority to recognize the transition to legal adulthood, but they are nonetheless legally distinct concepts. One need not have attained the age of majority to have permission to exercise certain rights and responsibilities. Some ages of license may be higher, lower, or match the age of majority. For example, to purchase alcoholic beverages, the age of license is 21 in all U.S. states. Another example is the voting age, which prior to 1971 was 21 in the US, as was the age of majority in all or most states. After the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18, the age of majority was lowered to 18 in most states. In most US states, one may obtain a driver's license, consent to sexual activity, and gain full-time employment at age 16 even though the current age of majority is 18 in most states.[7] In the Republic of Ireland the age of majority is 18, but one must be over 21 to stand for election to the Houses of the Oireachtas.[8] Also, in Portugal the age of majority is 18, but one must be at least 25 years of age to run for public office and 35 to run for president.[9] A child who is legally emancipated by a court of competent jurisdiction automatically attains to their maturity upon the signing of the court order. Only emancipation confers the status of maturity before a person has actually reached the age of majority.

In almost all places, minors who marry are automatically emancipated. Some places also do the same for minors who are in the armed forces or who have a certain degree or diploma.[10] Minors who are emancipated may be able to choose where they live, sign contracts, and have control over their financial and medical decisions and generally make decisions free from parental control but are not exempt from age requirements set forth in law for other rights. For example, a minor can emancipate at 16 in the US (or younger depending on the state) but must still wait until 18 to vote or buy a firearm, and 21 to buy alcohol or tobacco.

The age 18 is identified as the age of adulthood in the Jewish Talmud relative to having sound judgement to make monetary decisions as a judge.[11] Here, the Talmud says that every judgment Josiah, the sixteenth king of Judah (c. 640–609 BCE), issued from his coronation until the age of eighteen was reversed and he returned the money to the parties whom he judged liable, due to concern that in his youth he may not have judged the cases correctly. Other Jewish commentators have discussed whether age 13 or 18 is the age to make decisions in a Jewish Court.[12]

The highest known age of majority historically was around age 30, during the age of the Roman Empire, where young males were placed under the guardianship of adults known as "Curatores" whose permission was needed to engage in formal acts and sign contracts until the youth turned 30. This was later lowered down to 25, and eventually 21 became the common age of majority. In some places historically, 23 or 27 could have also been this age.[13] It has also gone down to as low as 14 or 15 years of age. They are somewhat arbitrarily chosen, but have rarely been designated outside of this approximate age range. It has not always been 18 or 21 but rather a variety of ages. In Medieval England, the age of majority was 15 but further raised to 21.[14][15][16]

Since 2015, some countries have started to lower the voting age to 16.[17][18] Some countries, like England and Wales, are even considering lowering the age of majority to 16,[19] similar to how it already is in Cuba.[20] The main arguments for lowering is that, on average, young people are much more educated currently (both because of better individual educational outcomes and being raised by more educated parents) than in the past (the same argument made in the 1970s when most countries lowered the age of majority from 21 to 18, which is the age still used presently for most countries).[citation needed][21] In addition, compared to the past, nowadays information is much more easily accessible as a result of the invention of the Internet, which can now be accessed through both a computer and also a smartphone.

A person reaches the age of majority at midnight at the beginning of the day of that person's relevant birthday; under English common law this was not always the case.[22][better source needed]

Civil law

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In many countries minors can be emancipated: depending on jurisdiction, this may happen through acts such as marriage, attaining economic self-sufficiency, obtaining an educational degree or diploma, or participating in a form of military service. In the United States, all states have some form of emancipation of minors.[23]

The following list the age of majority in countries (or administrative divisions) in the order of lowest to highest:

Up to age 15

Age 16

Age 17

Age 18

Coming of Age Day in Japan

Age 19

Age 20

Age 21 and above

Religious law

Religions have their own rules as to the age of maturity, when a child is regarded to be an adult, at least for ritual purposes:


In some countries, reaching the age of majority carries other rights and obligations, although in other countries, these rights and obligations may be had before or after reaching the aforementioned age.

See also


  1. ^ Amendments to existing laws have been drafted to raise majority age to 18. Currently, however, the body is considered to be developed and to have reached adulthood at age 15 in Yemen.
  2. ^ Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991
  3. ^ Article 25. Minor and adolescent: minor is the person who has not turned eighteen. This Code refers to the adolescent as the minor who turned thirteen years of age.
  4. ^ Article 24. The age of majority shall be 18.
  5. ^ Those aged 16 or older can be emancipated upon marriage, by being approved for civil service, by graduating college or for being economically independent.
  6. ^ §30 Majority. An individual acquires full legal capacity upon reaching the age of majority. The age of majority is reached upon reaching eighteen years of age. Before reaching the age of majority, full legal capacity is acquired by being granted legal capacity or by entering into marriage. Legal capacity acquired by entering into marriage is not terminated upon termination or invalidation of marriage.
  7. ^ A minor is an individual of either sex who is not yet eighteen years old.
  8. ^ The age of majority is 15 Islamic lunar years for boys, and nine lunar years for girls.
  9. ^ Iraq's Civil Code defines the age of majority as 18; however, due to the Iraqi constitution and current national instability, Note 1 (above) may apply as courts may choose between Shari'ah law and the Civil Code.
  10. ^ Constitution of Kenya. Article 260. "Adult" means an individual who has attained the age of eighteen years, "child" means an individual who has not attained the age of eighteen years. Age of Majority Act, 1977. Section 2 Age of majority. A person shall be of full age and cease to be under any disability by reason of age on attaining the age of eighteen years.
  11. ^ Or at 16 or 17, upon marriage.
  12. ^ Or upon marriage, which, for women, can happen as early as 16. The legal voting age is invariably 18.
  13. ^ Minors are emancipated upon marriage or in case of working on a labour agreement or being engaged in business activities.
  14. ^ Children's Act, 2005 Article 1. "child" means a person under the age of 18 years, article 17. Age of majority – A child, whether male or female, becomes a major upon reaching the age of 18 years.
  15. ^ Constitution article 12. Spaniards come legally of age at eighteen years. Civil Code article 315. Legal age begins upon turning eighteen. The date of birth shall be included in full for the calculation of legal age.
  16. ^ In all states and Washington, D.C., the legal alcohol purchase and smoking age is 21.
  17. ^ In the light of article 16 of the Family Code, which provides that majority is attained at the age of 21 years, it may be inferred that the status of minor is retained in Honduras until the age of 21. According, however, to article 36 of the Constitution of Honduras, all Hondurans over 18 years of age are citizens. This means that the quality of citizen is attained while a person is still a minor, thus involving the assumption of the status of minor adult. The latter contracts all the obligations of persons of full age and acquires the specific rights that are reserved for such persons, with a few exceptions.[124]
  18. ^ In Mississippi, 18 is the age of majority for executors and administrators. However, "in case letters testamentary or of administration shall be granted to any one under twenty-one (21) years, the bond executed by such person for the performance of the duties shall be as valid and binding as if such person were of full age." By contrast, any person between the ages of 18 and 20 is defined as a minor for trusts and estates, and transfers to that person.[131]


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