AskDefine | Define adulthood

Dictionary Definition



1 the period of time in your life after your physical growth has stopped and you are fully developed [syn: maturity]
2 the state (and responsibilities) of a person who has attained maturity

User Contributed Dictionary



adult + -hood


  1. Sphinx's riddle That part of life during which one walks on two legs.
  2. The time of life when one is expected to take responsibility for ones own actions and well-being.
    The boy entered adulthood by undergoing a rite of passage.


time of life


Extensive Definition

For the upcoming 2008 British film by Noel Clarke see Adulthood (film).
The term adult has three distinct meanings:
  • Grown man or woman; mature person.
  • Plant or animal that has reached full growth.
  • One who is legally of age. Opposed to minor.
Adulthood can be defined in terms of biology, psychological adult development, law, personal character, or social status. These different aspects of adulthood are often inconsistent and contradictory. A person may be biologically an adult, and have adult behavioral characteristics but still be treated as a child if they are under the legal age of majority. Conversely one may legally be an adult but possess none of the maturity and responsibility that define adult character.
Coming of age is the event; passing a series of tests to demonstrate the child is prepared for adulthood; or reaching a specified age, sometimes in conjunction with demonstrating preparation. Most modern societies determine legal adulthood based on reaching a legally-specified age without requiring a demonstration of physical maturity or preparation for adulthood.
Although adult education simply means education for adults, not particularly sex education, "adult" also means "not considered suitable for children," in particular as a euphemism for being related to sexual behaviour.
Some propose that moving into adulthood involves an emotional structuring of denial. This process becomes necessary to cope with one's own behaviour, especially in uncomfortable situations, and also the behaviour of others.

Biological adulthood

Adulthood is generally understood as the time when physical maturation is complete. One reaches their maximum height and secondary sex characteristics form such as body hair and facial hair, voice lowers in pitch (especially noticeable in men), and menses begin (women). Natural sleep patterns change in adulthood, as adults typically require less sleep than during adolescence. One aspect people do not specify is what (psychologically) an adult is. A common theory is that adulthood is the real test of life, to experience the world from a first-person standpoint instead of through the parents. Then the adult can pass those experiences down to younger people and they can experience them when they become adults.

Legal adulthood

Legally it means that one can engage in a contract. The same or a different minimum age may be applicable to, for example, parents losing parenting rights and duties regarding the person concerned, parents losing financial responsibility, marriage, voting, having a job, being a soldier, buying/possessing firearms (if legal at all), driving, traveling abroad, involvement with alcoholic beverages (if legal at all), smoking, sex, gambling (both lottery and casino) being a prostitute or a client of a prostitute (if legal at all), being a model or actor in pornography, etc. Admission of a young person to a place may be restricted because of danger for that person, and/or because of the risk that the young person causes damage (for example, at an exhibition of fragile items).
One can distinguish the legality of acts of a young person, and of enabling a young person to carry out that act, by selling, renting out, showing, permitting entrance, participating, etc. There may be distinction between commercially and socially enabling. Sometimes there is the requirement of supervision by a legal guardian, or just by an adult. Sometimes there is no requirement, but just a recommendation.
With regard to pornography one can distinguish:
  • being allowed inside an adult establishment
  • being allowed to purchase pornography
  • being allowed to possess pornography
  • another person being allowed to sell, rent out, or show the young person pornography, see disseminating pornography to a minor
  • being a model or actor in pornography: rules for the young person, and for other people, regarding production, possession, etc. (see child pornography)
With regard to films with violence, etc.:
  • another person being allowed to sell, rent out, or show the young person the film, a cinema being allowed to let the young person (under 18) enter
The legal definition of entering adulthood usually varies between ages 15–21, depending on the region in question. Some cultures in Africa define adult at age 13.
According to Jewish tradition, adulthood is reached at age 13 (the age of the Bar Mitzvah), for Jewish boys, for example, were expected to demonstrate preparation for adulthood by learning the Torah and other Jewish practices. The Christian Bible and Jewish scripture has no age requirement for adulthood or marrying, which includes engaging in sexual activity. According to The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, the Christian Church of the Middle Ages considered the age of accountability, when a person could be tried and even executed as an adult, to be age 7 .
In most of the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and China, the legal adult age is 18, with some exceptions:
  1. Iran (21)
  2. Indonesia and Japan (20)
  3. South Korea & British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Yukon Territory in Canada (19)

Personal characteristics

There are some qualities that symbolize adultness in most cultures. There is not always a correlation between the qualities and the physical age of the person.
The adult character comprises:
  • Self-control - restraint, emotional control.
  • Stability - stable personality, strength.
  • Independence - ability to self-regulate.
  • Seriousness - ability to deal with life in a serious manner.
  • Responsibility - accountability, commitment and reliability.
  • Method/Tact - ability to think ahead and plan for the future, patience.
  • Endurance - ability and willingness to cope with difficulties that present themselves.
  • Experience - breadth of mind, understanding.
  • Objectivity - perspective and realism.
  • Decision making capability - as all of the above correspond to making proper decisions.


External links

adulthood in Afrikaans: Volwassene
adulthood in Arabic: مرحلة الرشد
adulthood in Catalan: Adult
adulthood in Czech: Dospělost
adulthood in Danish: Voksen
adulthood in German: Erwachsener
adulthood in Estonian: Täiskasvanu
adulthood in Spanish: Adulto
adulthood in Esperanto: Plenkreskeco
adulthood in French: Adulte
adulthood in Scottish Gaelic: Inbheach
adulthood in Galician: Adulto
adulthood in Korean: 어른
adulthood in Indonesian: Dewasa
adulthood in Icelandic: Fullorðinn einstaklingur
adulthood in Italian: Adulto
adulthood in Hebrew: בגרות
adulthood in Kurdish: Zelam
adulthood in Dutch: Volwassene
adulthood in Newari: तरुण
adulthood in Japanese: 大人
adulthood in Norwegian: Voksen
adulthood in Polish: Dorosłość
adulthood in Portuguese: Adulto
adulthood in Russian: Взрослый
adulthood in Sicilian: Granni
adulthood in Simple English: Adult
adulthood in Serbian: Адулт
adulthood in Finnish: Aikuisuus
adulthood in Swedish: Vuxen
adulthood in Ukrainian: Дорослий
adulthood in Yiddish: ערוואקסענער
adulthood in Contenese: 大人
adulthood in Chinese: 成人

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

adultness, age of consent, driving age, flower of age, full age, full bloom, full growth, fullgrownness, grown-upness, legal age, legalis homo, majority, manhood, manlihood, mature age, maturity, prime, prime of life, ripe age, riper years, toga virilis, virility, womanhood, womanlihood, years of discretion
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