By: Tyler Curry


Some places in the world permit marriage at age 13. For others, no voting rights until 21 years or older. Legal age limits vary across the globe, shedding insight into the values and social climate of a given population. Using Visart data visualization software, we asked: What can legal age limits reveal about culture?

Disclaimer: These are just inferences, based on data. If you have more clarification on a particular figure, let us know in the comments.

Voting Age

Voting age law typically assumes those under the limit have an underdeveloped capacity to vote wisely. Indicated in the minimum voting age chart and world map, there is an overwhelming majority set at age 18 – adopted by nearly 90% of countries across the globe.Number of Countries by Voting Age

Minimum Voting Age

Despite the general consensus, countries with the oldest age limit, set at 21 years – Malaysia, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Oman. On the other hand Argentina, Nicaragua, Austria, Cuba, Ecuador show more confidence with minimum age at 16.

Bar Chart of Voting Age by Region

Countries with Youngest Voting Age On average, the world voting age is 18.11. Regionally, East Asia & Pacific and Middle East & North Africa determines the appropriate age at a .5 higher average than the majority. Whereas, Latin America and Caribbean citizens are given the right to vote at 17.7, which is lower that the world average by .4 years.

Does voting age suggest level of trust in youth, within a society? Perhaps the high minimum voting ages in Malaysia, Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Oman indicate a lack of trust in the youth population.

Drinking Age

Legal drinking age regulates when, where and by whom alcohol can be consumed and purchased. Laws vary by country and are set within the perimeters that reflect a nation’s religious values (i.e. some Islamic nations forbid alcoholic consumption) or social and historical considerations (i.e. alcoholism, prohibition, etc.). So what can be understood by a country’s drinking age limit?

Minimum Drinking Age

The map shows vast majority assumes legal drinking age at 18. More conservative countries in this regard – United States, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Oman, United Arab Emirates – limit alcoholic consumption and purchase at age 21. At times, laws can be amended based on the guardian, method of consumption or purchase, and whether or not consumption happens in a private place. Countries with the youngest drinking ages, at 16, are Austria, Switzerland, Germany, UK, Belgium, Portugal, Morocco, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Malaysia.

The map also shows some countries like Greenland, nations in West and Central Africa, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Madagascar, Somalia, Middle East and South East Asia, and the Sahara either have no data due to lack of population or because alcohol consumption is illegal, altogether.

Marriage Age

Marriage age can be viewed as an indicator of gender equality, with respect to historical and present day law. Historically, marriageable age has been higher for boys than girls – in some cases, with the girl’s paternal consent, judicial approval, signs of puberty, or an agreement between families.

Today there is a more equal marital playing field. According to the map, most parts of the world set marriageable age at 17 -18; but in others there is a notable difference in the age requirement compared to male counterparts.

Minimum Age of Marriage in Men

An example of this difference, we look at China and India. Both require men to be at least 21 before they tie the knot. But for women in China, the age is only 20; India, 18. Similar customs can be found in other countries like Bolivia and Paraguay where the legal age for marriage is 16 for males and 14 for females.

Minimum Age of Marrige in Women

The Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage of 1962 allowed state marriage regulation to override religious of tribal customs. However some populations are stronghold in former societal attitudes.

Enlistment Age

Minimum Age of EnlistmentMilitary service is a voluntary act in some countries, and compulsory in others. As shown in the map, 18 is the most common age limit to enlist, throughout North America, China, Australia, South East Asia and most countries in Africa. But in places like Russia, Norway, Egypt, Mexico, Guyana and parts of the Middle East, the minimum age to enlist is 16 years old.

Interesting fact: nearly all of the countries with a 16 year minimum enlistment age have their legal drinking, voting, marriage and legal driving ages set at 18. In Russia, citizens become military cadets at 16 and must enlist at 17 years old.

Driving Age

Driving age indicates the point at which a person can apply for a driver’s license. In most nations, the legal age to drive is 18. However in North America, Australia, Columbia and the Philippines the legal age to drive is just 16 years old.

Could this indicate the city congestion or availability of automobiles?

Minimum Driving Age

Criminal Responsibility

Age of criminal responsibility, also known as defense of infancy, is the threshold at which an individual is responsible for one’s actions. The number varies by country with the United States, Mexico, India, with parts of Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia holding individuals as young as (and sometimes younger than) 8 years old accountable.

Minimum Age of Imprisonment

In some low age countries, accountability begins at 6 years of age – specifically in Mexico and the United States. Though the federal age is set at 11 years, states can determine their own minimum; noting North Carolina who sets the U.S. at the top of the list for youngest prisoners.

ImprisonmentAge2

List of Countries with Oldest Imprisonment Age

On the contrary, countries like Poland hold juvenile educational and therapeutic proceedings that start from 13, with the minimum age for imprisonment at 17 – the highest age limit for criminal responsibility.

What’s more, there seems to be a correlation between income level and average age of imprisonment. According to the charts seen above, imprisonment is directly linked with lower income levels. That is, the younger the prisoner, the lower the income.

Bar Chart of Imprisonment Age by Income Levels

Age of Consent

Age of consent is a murky law with many gray areas, across the globe. The law is the age limit at which a person is competent to consent to sexual acts. Jurisdictions vary widely, based on type of act and gender of actors, as noted in the charts below.

Minimum Age of Consent in Man

Minimum Age of Consent for Women

Generally, age of consent is equal for both genders, as seen in the maps above. Age limits are commonly set between 15 – 16 years of age, with the exception of Botswana, Lesotho and countries in South East Asia where the legal age for men is 19 -20 and women 15 – 16 years. This could indicate the social attitudes of areas that regard historical and religious customs, giving precedence to signs of puberty, age difference and, for men, economic responsibility.

It has been said that you can tell a lot about a country by the way they treat their youth. Conservative or liberal? Freedom and responsibility, or control and forgiveness? Looking into the societal attitudes that trickle down into a nation’s youth population and the respective reactions of young people can determine the leaders, decision makers and general public of tomorrow.


Sources:

Voting age: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_age. Optional voting age is used where applicable.

Legal drinking age: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_drinking_age Consumption on private premises is excluded. For countries with more than one age limit, lowest value is taken.

Enlistment age: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlistment_age_by_country. Voluntary enlistment age is used where applicable (services including minors are excluded). For countries with different ages between voluntary and compulsory services, lowest age is taken.

Legal age to get married: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriageable_age. Parental consent and court decided ages are excluded

Legal age to drive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_minimum_driving_age. Restricted license age is used where applicable

Ages of criminal responsibility: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/defence_of_infancy. Minimum age for juvenile system is used where applicable.

Age of Consent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_consent#By_country_or_region. Special circumstances and limitations are excluded. Countries that ban sexual relations outside marriage are excluded. For countries with different consent ages between states, most common age is taken.