The Age of Majority: 18 or 21?

This cartoon reminded me of an interesting blog post and following comment dialog that my friend Barbara had on her blog. The essence of the dialog was whether the age of majority in the United States should be 18 or 21. The topics involved voting and drinking ages as well as the maturity level needed to serve in the military and potentially risk your life in war.. some stuff that we don't think too much about.

Over the years I have been all over the place on this issue. I really resented the state of Texas for denying me the right to drink a beer when I was 19 and lived there during my military service. I felt that they disrespected me and my service to our country.

In more recent years, after discussing front-line battle situations with my son, I have come to believe that a person should be at least 21 to serve in the military. Some of my son's descriptions of 19 year olds on the front-lines of war are disturbing and troubling. I think that teenagers are too young to be put in these life and death situations.

I have similar thoughts about the maturity levels needed to cast a ballot in the voting booth. I am not saying that all 19 year olds are immature but I have noticed that many of the ones I know may not be the best informed on the issues.. and yes.. I know that folks over 21 fall in that same category.. some people stay politically young forever.

So I kind of net these things out.. I think of how many young people are not really independent.. some live with their parents and others go to college on their parents dime.. I think about how immature I was before 21.. and I feel that.. all things considered.. the drinking age should not be lowered but the voting and military ages should be raised.

And I know that I have not even mentioned the age of majority when it comes to criminal prosecution.. or the age when a person should be eligible to drive a car (see this post for my thoughts on teen drivers).. I think that those may be different issues.. but frankly I am not sure they are.. I just don't want to think about them right now.

Either way it seems that the age of majority for drinking, military service and voting should all be the same age. To me, it still seems disrespectful to tell a soldier that we honor his service but not enough to allow him to drink a beer. An alternative would be to keep things as they are and allow a soldier to show their military ID and be allowed to drink before age 21?

What do you think the age of majority should be? Any stories?


  1. Two theories on this topic, Bob.

    Theory A: Helicopter Effect

    My grandmother boarded a ship at the age of 16, traveled three weeks and landed in a country where she had no friends, no family. While she corresponded by mail, she did not see her mother, father, brothers or sisters until she returned to Ireland nearly forty years later.

    Now, we make our kids text us when they get on the school bus, we drive them around the corner, we help them with homework so they'll get good grades, arrange for private practices so they can excel at sports, and basically teach them that there is no need for them to be responsible for anything.

    At the rate we're going, the age of maturity will soon be somewhere around 35.

    Theory B: Not like us.

    There was a time, when thought leadership and vision in this country was dominated by people in their 30's, 40's (and early 50's). Inventors, business leaders, presidents. Consider Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Ford, Edison, FDR, etc. Young people (18 or so) were pretty close in age to these people.

    Today, most "leaders" such as CEOs, Senators, etc. are over 60. Perhaps the idea that "young people" can be responsible seems absurd.

    My church is a good example. When the church started 15 years ago, the average age of the elders and management team was mid-30's. While we have a whole new team of elders and managers today, the average age? About 50 -- 15 years older than it was 15 years ago.

    My guess is that several of the apostles were under 21... and they seemed to make out OK. Put me down as one who votes for 18 across the board.

  2. @Ed - I am okay with 18 across the board.. but it might get some of those MADD moms a bit MADDER?

  3. Actually, maybe we should move it up to 21 for everything. 18 year olds aren't mature enough to drink (or for a lot of things we allow them to do) But, let's face it. They do drink. They can legally do everything else. I think it's silly to expect them not to drink.

    When I was a boy in Ohio, we had 3.2% beer. Actually that was not a bad idea. It gave 18 years olds the opportunity to drink legally with a beverage that was less intoxicating. The theory was that 3.2% beer was not intoxicating. Of course it is. But, you have to drink more of it to get drunk and it's probably darn near impossible to drink yourself to death on 3.2 beer.

  4. I am not sure where Ed G. got the idea that several of the apostles were under 21, John might have been close to that give or take, but most of the apostles were probably over 30. Now I have to add this study to my over flowing plate. But having been a new and young voter, a new and young Marine Corp recruit at 17 in the Viet Nam era, and a new and young drinker well under 21, I think that the age of serving in the military, drinking, and voting should be at least 21 and that might be young if we keep going the way we ar going.

  5. Good comments here so far. Brian makes a good point that teens will drink regardless of the age limit but I still favor an older age because of the proclivity to immature behavior. Here is how my buddy Lynn commented on Facebook:

    "I would go with 25 as majority age, about the same age as our frontal cortexes mature. :-)"

    Now that is an interesting age.. getting up where Basic Training might prove a bit difficult.

  6. I almost said 25 accept military service would be tough at that age, at least war time Marine Corps boot camp. Hoorah! Semper Fi!

  7. the older the better. maybe there shouldn't be an age where one is old enough to drink :)

  8. What Ed said got me thinking. Maybe leadership has moved to those in their fifties+ because those who used to lead in their 30s are having a problem passing on the torch? It does seem we are all in some way putting off the inevitable. Kids are living at home longer, parents are retiring later...

    In terms of age of majority, I feel that if you lose the legal representation of your parents at 18, it only seems right that you would now be able to vote for governmental representation. In principle, I also agree with you, Bob, that they should afford all the rights that come with that at the same time. There has to be a line that says, "I was a kid, now I'm adult." Yet, I know that adding alcohol to those first years of critical decision making is problematic. Do they have the same problems with drinking in countries where the drinking age is much lower? Maybe if it weren't such a "coming of age" thing it wouldn't be as significant. It makes sense to teach kids how to handle things responsibly before they are on their own. I, for one, don't really have a great desire to push that age back. I would like to raise adults, please, not perpetual children.

  9. @ Gregg. My feeling that some apostles were under 21 is just that, a feeling. A quick Google search did not provide many answers. Many peg John in his teens (some cite 15/16). Most people assume Peter was the oldest. Did not get any sense that most were in their 30's. Something I too will look at more closely.

  10. A few thoughts about the ages of the apostles:

    + Peter and Andrew seemed to own their own fishing business.. probably not teenagers?

    + Paul's background seems to make him older.

    + Matthew collected taxes.. seems he would be older?

    + John's age seems to be derivable from the dating of the book of Revelation. If written in the 90s then it seems that he was very young when he accompanied Jesus. But if written in the 60s (as some think) then he could have been older.

    My thinking is that they seemed to be all around the same age as age doesn't seem to be an issue in the interactions between them in the gospels.

  11. I'm not sure which age is best, but I think there should be fewer age thresholds: 16 for driving and for marriage, 18 for military service, 19 for drinking, 21 for contracts.....

    I'd put drinking, marriage, military service and contracts all together, at SOME point where you are declared an ADULT. I'm not quite sure about driving, having it start younger, under a parent's supervision, ideally, might be fine.

    By picking one age, or fewer ages, we might be able to see fewer pieces of nonsense like considering someone a kid and an adult at the same time. (He can drive, but not have sex consensually (yes, yes, I believe in chastity, I'm using a real-world example here). He can be a soldier but not drink? He can drive, but has a curfew? He can be given a credit card but can't really sign a contract?

    It's very artificial.

  12. @TZ - Great new thoughts about the age of majority for things like sex, contracts, credit cards, curfews, and marriage. Making a person wait to get legally married until they are 21 or 25 put a whole new face on what it means to be an adult. I got married when I was 22 and I am not sure that I really knew what I was doing.. but it did seem to work out :)

  13. I don't think the minimum age for military service should be lower than it is for drinking, driving and voting.

    I think the minimum military age is only 18 (17 with parental approval) because it is convenient for the country. When any of the other age limits are higher than 18, it is, again, for society’s convenience.

    Driving with (aggressively enforced) restrictions should be allowed at age 16 since many of them do (or should) work. License restrictions should be removed at 18.

    The minimum age for drinking and voting should be 21, in my opinion. However, if either of these minimums is 21, then the minimum age for military service should also be 21.

    Military service is the best employment opportunity available for high school graduates who do not want or cannot qualify for college. Service in the military qualified me for GI Benefits, which made it affordable for me to go to college after completing my military service.

    I recognize that increasing the minimum age for military service would be a great inconvenience for our government but I think the minimum age for combat service (land, sea and air) should be 21. Service personnel below the age of 21 can be in the military but restricted to non-combat service.

    I never personally felt too young when I joined at the age of 18 and experience combat at 19 but I was convinced that many were too young to be exposed to the stress of military service, especially combat. I remember seeing an infantryman boarding a ship in San Diego headed to Vietnam. He didn't look old enough to drive and he certainly had no need for a shaver. It was a very disturbing sight that I have not forgotten after almost 45 years.

    I don't think society has the right to send 'children' into combat, even if the child and the child's parents approve. I may be wrong but I think that the younger service personnel are more susceptible to permanently disabling psychological damage and suicide.

  14. Thanks for sharing that Joe. I especially agree with your last sentence. My son saw a lot of bad stuff in his two years in Iraq. He was 24 on his first tour and came home a different person.. used to call it shell shock.. these days it is PTSD.

  15. I'm sorry to hear that Bob. I hope your son can eventually leave his experience behind him. How long has it been since he left Iraq and the military?

  16. Thanks for asking Joe. Been two years since he left the Army. He turns 30 this year and is doing better.

  17. MADD was one of the biggest pushers for increasing the age limit for alcohol due to the inordinate high number of auto deaths from drunk drivers 18-21. Raising the age limit has indeed drastically reduced the fatalities and such and the fact is that Americans drive further distances and more often than any other countries peers where often they don;t have cars and being a smalelr palce, have far more public transport options. So, yes, at the minimum I think teens have shown that they can't handle alcohol as well, etc.

    I would far rather trust an 18 year old, not drinking to carry a gun adn defend the country than I woudl to drive as they are also more often busy with texting etc--not allowed in the military.

    While I love the idea of being 21 at least to serve in the military for the reasons you state, I also love that it offers so many too poor to ever consider college or even loans, another viable option for helping with schooling and learning great skills in the process. I woudl also rather have younger, stronger men fight than starting out older, should it ever, god forbid, come to that where large numbers of men are needed in battle.


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