Question: How did 21 years become the magical age of adulthood? (Asked by a 20-year-old column reader.)

Reply: Good question, but I’m not sure I can answer definitively. That is because basically it is a matter of opinion or consensus as to when a person is mature. Setting a particular age is a guess, or average. Some people might be considered mature before that age, and some after.

It is more of a question of “legal” age than adulthood. The legal age of various things fluctuates a lot. For example, you have to be 35 years of age to be resident of the United States. (No, I’m not going to touch on the maturity of that one.) Most notable is the “legal” drinking age. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, various states lowered their drinking age from 21 to 18. Research at the time showed there was a significant increase in highway deaths of teens, so there was a movement to increase the age.

All states now have 21 as the legal drinking age. This is because the National Drinking Act of 1984 specified 21 as the age at which an individual can purchase alcoholic beverages. Any state that had the drinking age below 21 would have a percentage of federal highway funds withheld. All states went along with changing the drinking age from 18 to 21. So, it would seem that people 18 years of age are still “teenagers,” and have a three-year probation period.

However, is 18 years of age the mark of adulthood? At 18, one can vote, enter into contracts, serve in the military and go to war. At 18, you are then taxed as an adult, too. You just can’t buy beer.

Then there’s the “legal” smoking age. In a lot of countries, it’s illegal to sell tobacco products to minors. In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration officially changed the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. That new minimum age applies to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges.

Here’s one more “age” specification: the Bar Mitzvah (boys) and the Bat Mitzvah (girls), and the coming of age. Under Jewish law, boys at the age of 13 and girls at the age of 12, become obligated to observe the Commandments. This also comes with the right to take part in religious services, enter binding contracts and to marry.

So you tell me… what is the age of adulthood? Some people say I’ve never grown up.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “The real frightening thing about middle age is that you know you’ll grow out of it.” – Doris Day

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to