May 21, 2024

The Edge of Seventeen: What Does It Mean To Be a Young Adult in America in 2024?

By Andrew J. Rotherham | Chad Aldeman | Lynne Graziano | Andy Jacob

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When is someone considered an adult? 

Throughout modern American history, policymakers have usually addressed these questions piecemeal, without much regard for the standard they or their predecessors set on other issues. The result is a patchwork of policies on age restrictions without a clear set of guiding principles — mirroring society’s broader lack of clarity about what “adulting” means in 2024. 

This confusion has real-world consequences not just for the young people whose lives are shaped to varying degrees by incoherent policies, but also for institutions that have to enforce or deal with the fallout from those policies — especially schools. 

The Edge of Seventeen: What Does It Mean To Be a Young Adult in America in 2024? identifies how states have approached age restrictions on a range of different issues. 

This analysis provides a comprehensive snapshot of age restrictions across all 50 states, ranging from the age someone can get married, purchase a gun, work, and much more.  

The goal is to help leaders, policymakers, members of the news media, and others zoom out from debates about individual issues to see the bigger picture of age restrictions within states and across the country. 

You can read the full report here, and you can download the database of policies we used in our analysis here. 

Bellwether’s “stocktaking” series, part of Beta by Bellwether, helps the education sector separate signal from noise and move toward a shared fact base on timely issues. You can find our other stocktaking publications here. 


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