Lindsay Tanner suggests that “changing the voting age to 16 would grant political rights to an age group that has less connection with the world of adult responsibility than any previous generation of that age” (‘Window Dressing’, November). The median age of first-time mothers has steadily increased to around 29; for men it is slightly older. Full-time employment opportunities for teenagers have steadily declined over the last few decades, pushing the starting age of full-time work to later in life. Young people typically buy their first home in their early thirties. By Tanner’s logic, one could question whether any young person should vote until their late twenties!
While 16 year olds are legally considered emotionally and mentally able to consent to sex, they cannot vote on related election issues such as the legalisation of abortion. They can be considered legally independent and receive welfare, but also cannot vote. A working 16 year old can be taxed according to the laws of a government which they had no hand in electing. While some worry that young people are disengaged, we push them to the margins using outdated frames of reference, generalisations and patronising tones. Tanner’s argument has more in common with nineteenth-century criticisms of universal suffrage than with the changing needs and living conditions of young people.