How Old is Twenty-One?

We’re having a two referendums here in Ireland next Friday. One is about gay marriage (and I’m very much in favour of that); the other is about amending The Constitution to reduce the age at which a person can stand for the Presidency of the country from thirty-five to twenty-one.

99.9% of the debate thus far has been about the gay marriage referendum and hardly anyone is talking about the age of  eligibility to stand for the Presidency.


My initial reaction to reducing the age to 21 was that it was nonsensical because I felt that a twenty-one year old couldn’t possibly have the wit or wisdom required to be President.  But then I started having second thoughts as I saw all sorts of great young sportsmen and women flashing across my radar and none more than Boris Becker when he took Wimbledon by storm aged 17.

And then Anne Frank crossed my mind ~ what an amazing girl ~ surely she’d have been fit to be a President at 21 years of age.

I think I was a bit of a flibbery-jibbet at 21 but then found myself being plunged into a very grown-up world at 22 when my boyfriend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I ended up minding him at home ~ pretty much just me as that’s how he wanted it ~ for the ten weeks or so that he had remaining to him.  It amazes me now that I actually rose to that challenge and managed as well as I did. I reckon that being President would have been  a walk in the park compared to that situation and all sorts of tough circumstances that so many young people find themselves in.

So, I’ve swung from being a definite ‘NO’ voter to being a ‘YES’ on this one as well.

I doubt we’ll ever have a twenty-one year old President BUT  maybe it’s time to stop seeing twenty-one year olds as being big toddlers?

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

29 thoughts on “How Old is Twenty-One?”

  1. If one is considered suitable for electing a leader at a particular age, then why would it not be reasonable for that potential leader to be one’s own age? To deny this equality would surely be to infer that the voter has inadequate judgement in some sense, and if so, then why allow them to vote? The idea of limiting voting to those of a particular age is to set a reference point for having adequate judgement for leader selection. And if, only putatively, we have such adequate judgement at say,18 or 21, then in what sense is one’s judgement inadequate for the purpose of leadership itself? There seems to be a contradiction in there.

  2. An interesting time then in Ireland at the moment. I agree that at first you think 21 is too young to be president, but there are some very strong, self-aware young people out there who might do a better job than some of those who have been around for a long time 🙂

  3. There are a lot of years between 21 and 35 …. Makes sense to allow this generation to lead into the future.
    On the other hand, some scientists are now saying that adolescence continues until around 24….
    Good to see you here again Jean! xo
    I wonder how the vote will go!

    1. Hi Val, thanks for your kind words.
      There certainly are a lot of years between 21 and 35 and that’s pretty key in all this.
      It seems likely that the vote will be lost but I suspect if they had taken 25 as the lower age, it could well have been passed.
      Will keep you posted.

  4. Hi Jean! Great to have you back. On gay marriage I am with you 100%. To me love is the key – as long as it is between consenting adults , which adults in none of my business. On the president question, I disagree. I think 21 is too young, and the reason is physiological, not intellectual. The prefrontal cortex , where complex long term consequences are determined, does not mature until the mid 20’s earliest. Younger than that adults can accomplish very impressive acts of kindness, love, physical prowess and all other human endeavors. However, the ability to recognize, determine, feel, internalize and integrate long term consequences of complex policies and actions, is best done by someone over 25. Have a read to see what I mean – . There is some speculation amongst Biblical scholars that the historical Jesus didn’t begin to teach until his early 30’s because of the maturing of his brain.

    Anyway, great post Jean and wonderful to see you again. 😀

  5. I’m with you on the gay marriage. Seriously love is love is love!
    As for the age of 21; well, I totally see your point as well as Paul’s. Personally, I’ve always found that men become men by 35! Now if we are talking about women, well that is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish! Women mature way faster.

    1. Hi Dale, I can’t even begin to imagine what would happen if the proposal was to have different ages for men and women! We’re ahead of many countries here in having had two female Presidents. I heard one speaking on the radio today and she wasn’t prepared to say which way she would be voting. I was all ears, needless to say.

      1. Obviously we couldn’t discriminate on the male/female age thing! You are indeed. We had a female prime minister but it was beyond short-lived. Barely worth the mention!

  6. I totally agree with you on gay marriage. But have reservations on the eligability for presidential office at 21. Personally I don’t think a 17 year old Boris Becker who grew up to have brief sex in cupboards was not the best example. However, I am a middle of the road liberal who thinks freedom of choice is essential. So yes, lower the age by all means, and allow the electorate to choose. The cream will hopefully rise to the top.

    1. Stan, I’ve been chuckling away at this comment since I picked it up on my phone.
      I was thinking of Boris’s brilliance on court and his extraordinary confidence.
      You made me think of the carry-on of some ‘older’ Presidents around the world. I wonder is that a male thing or …..

  7. My vote would be YES for gay marriage and No on the 21 for the presidency. But perhaps a younger candidate would bring out more voters. It is nice to see you back as I thought I had been missing you!

    1. CC, thanks for the welcome back.
      I suspect you’re right about a younger candidate bringing out more voters and that can only be a good thing as low turn-out is a real kick in the teeth for democracy.

  8. Well, Jean I agree totally on both counts, I was married at 17yrs and had my first son by 19yrs, second son by the time I was 21yrs with husband away more than home I grew up quickly!

    1. Willow,
      How interesting that you got married so young and were shouldering such responsibility at 21. I think there is a lot in the matter of ‘rising to a challenge’ when put to it.

  9. Hi Jean, Gay marriage, yes!!!
    I have always believed that if we are asking children of eighteen to fight and perhaps die for their country, they should certainly be allowed to vote for the president who is making war policies, so I celebrated when the voting age was changed from 21 to 18.
    There is a part of the brain–the one that registers mortality and weighs risks–that isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 or so, which is why the cost of car insurance for single males goes down dramatically at the age of 25. It’s also probably why they recruit their soldiers so young–so they won’t question orders or dwell upon their own mortality quite as much as an older person.
    But if a 21 year old is intelligent and eloquent enough to get himself or herself elected by a voting population of older voters, that candidate would have to be exceptional.
    I would have preferred almost any intelligent 21 year old in The White House over George Bush, who was much older than twenty-one when he became Dick Cheney’s puppet, committed horrible war crimes and set our nation back decades in terms of the advancement of science, civil rights, and environmental concerns.

    1. Naomi, thanks for such an interesting comment.
      It’s hard not to look at the Presidents that have been elected in the context of this particular referendum. Some really impress, others disappoint greatly. The age issue is certainly only one of very many variables involved in it all.

  10. Hi Jean and welcome back. Gay marriage – whilst all in favour of equality I’d be dithering a bit over the practicalities and possible unintended consequences. If entrusted with a vote I’d be doing more research beforehand.

    Again I’m wholly in favour of the principle of allowing 21 year-olds to stand for high office. It won’t happen though. Here we have a couple of young Deputies for whom it is their first ‘proper’ job and their naivety and lack of life experience is plain to see.

    1. Hello Roy and thanks for the welcome!

      I don’t think I can remember a referendum (apart from the abortion ones) which generated such debate in Ireland as this one on gay marriage.
      It seems like the possibility of ‘doing research’ is long gone in the surge of emotion that has been unleashed.

      Interesting that you have such young Deputies in Jersey. Like you, I don’t think Ireland will ever see a 21 year-old President, but then I didn’t expect to see two women a few decades back!

  11. My son (21) is passionate about this one. I too was a definite no but he pointed out it’s not about a 21 year old being president, it’s about a 30 year old. Democracy will dictate in the end, but he believes that 35 is too high, and (don’t tell him) he has swayed me completely.

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