What Are the Ages of Consent Throughout the Western World?

The recent discussion made me wonder about the actual legal norm as to general ages of consent. I set aside for purposes of this post what implications this data might have (though I hope to post soon some modest remarks on this, recognizing that of course the "ought" may well be quite different from "is," and inevitably has to be, given how many different "is"es there are).

Here I just want to summarize the data, which I've posted in this Excel spreadsheet. The age of consent information is based largely on Wikipedia (check out this map) and CoolNurse, with a little bit of checking on my part; certainly any scholarly work on this would have to rely on more reliable data, but this struck me as close enough for the rough aggregate results I'm reporting.

A few notes about how I chose the jurisdictions to survey. First, I thought that it would be most helpful to talk both about the U.S. separately, and the Western World more broadly, since we are part of a broader Western culture that shares a good deal in history and values, so that the other Western countries' judgment would at least be of some interest to us. The boundaries of the Western World are of course not precisely defined, but I basically chose the U.S., Europe West of the Iron Curtain (though including all of Germany and excluding the pinpoint countries), plus the Western Anglosphere, which is to say Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. My sense is that these are the countries that are most likely to be closest enough to us in cultural history and other values.

Second, I focused on what I call the "general age of consent," which excludes lower ages of consent when the other partner is within some range in age, or when the parties are married (which would generally require parental consent), and also excludes higher ages of consent when the other partner is in some specific position of authority over the younger partner (plus an unusual Massachusetts rule which sets the age of consent at 18 if the younger person is "of chaste life," the age otherwise being 16). Third, I focused (partly for the sake of convenience and partly because of the special moral significance of legal rules) on the legal rules, and not on social practices, which might on one hand frown on certain relationships that are legal, and on the other decline to enforce the law as to certain relationships that are illegal.

In any case, here's the summary of the data:

  1. Throughout the Western World (population 750 million), sex is generally permitted with (for all items but the last, I give a percentage that includes the lower age-of-consent countries)

    • 13-year-olds for 6% of the population (Spain);

    • 14-year-olds for 27% of the population (add Austria, Germany, Iceland, Italy, and Portugal;

    • 15-year-olds for 38% of the population (add Denmark, France, and Sweden);

    • 16-year-olds for 77% of the population (add nearly all the remaining Western countries and 30 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia);

    • 17-year-olds for 88% of the population (add Ireland, South Australia, and Tasmania and 8 U.S. states);

    • only 18-year-olds and above for 12% of the population (12 U.S. states).

  2. Within the U.S., the general age of consent is

    • 16 in 30 states plus D.C. (representing 45% of the population);

    • 17 in 8 states (representing 25% of the population);

    • 18 in 12 states (representing 30% of the population, California and Florida accounting for the majority of this).

  3. The median in the U.S. is thus age 16 if you go by state count, but 17 if you go by population, though nearly half the population is in the age-16 states.

  4. The median in the U.S. plus the Anglosphere is solidly age 16.

  5. The median in the Western World is also 16.

  6. The median in Western Europe is 15 (with 63% of the population living in 15-or-below countries).

  7. Throughout the U.S., the general age of consent is always 16 or above (though this has been so only for the last several years). In the rest of the Western World, the general age of consent is always 16 or below, except for Ireland, South Australia, and Tasmania, which together account for a little over 1% of the non-U.S. Western population.

I stress again: I'm giving these numbers as potentially interesting data; I hope to talk in a later post about the implications of this data, but for now I just want to note the data. If there are errors in the data, please e-mail me corrections. And naturally please do not rely on any of this age-of-consent data as legal guidance for your own personal behavior ....