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Ask A Mormon: Why do men and women become eligible for missions at different ages?

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Q. Why do men and women become eligible to go on a mission at different ages — i.e. men earlier than women? It seems that women mature faster than men, and so it conceivably is more logical to send women on a mission at younger ages, since they are likely more mature than a boy/man the same age.

Thanks!

Mary G.

A. Thanks for the question, Mary G.! The short, unsatisfying answer is: I don’t know.

A little background: The ages at which men and women can go on missions have changed over the years. In the early days of the church, married men with families were often called to serve missions, leaving their wives and children on their own for years at a time. The first “sister missionaries”, Jennie Brimhall and Inez Knight, were in their early 20s when they were called to serve in England in 1898.

At some point in the 1950s or so (I haven’t been able to track down an exact date), the minimum ages were set at 19 for young men and 21 for young women. Less than a year ago, in October 2012, it was announced that young men would be eligible to serve a year earlier at age 18, provided they had completed high school or its equivalent in their home country. Young women would be eligible to serve at 19, a two-year shift. With many young men not completing high school until well after their 18th birthday, I think it’s likely that many young men and young women will actually be serving missions at the same ages.

Please note, too, that serving a mission at the minimum age is not a requirement. Single men are eligible to go on missions until the age of 25. When President S. Thomas Monson announced the change he said, “I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.”

I was thrilled when the age requirements were lowered because it has provided the opportunity for many more women to serve missions. Before the change, approximately 15 percent of missionaries were women. Since October 2012, about half of the applications to serve are from women. Prior to the announcement last October, approximately 58,500 missionaries were serving. Just last month, the Church announced that number had risen to 75,000, and a large portion of the surge is young women.

Many Church members have speculated on various reasons why there is a difference in the minimum age requirement, but there hasn’t been an official explanation. I’d love to see the day when the age requirement is the same for everyone.

Do you have a question about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Submit it online or fill out the form below.  

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About Emily Geddes

Emily H. Geddes was born to two physicists and grew up as a Navy brat. Born-and-raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she holds a bachelor's degree in theatre from Brigham Young University, and earned an MBA from Eastern Washington University.

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One comment

  1. But you didn’t answer the question: “Why do men and women become eligible for missions at different ages?”

    The fact that the authorities of the church say that that’s the rule is a facile answer at best. WHY do they say that that’s the rule? Are their reasons coherent, or do they appear to mask assumptions about the sexes that don’t hold water? How do the norms around this issue effect the culture in general?

    This is a complex topic, and you have hardly scratched the surface! Say more!

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