The recent news about the Amethyst Initiative, in which a number of college and university presidents are calling for a lowering of the drinking age from 21, has sparked a bunch of discussion. Jake Young and Mark Kleiman have good contributions.

There are two main arguments against lowering the drinking age:

1) Raising the drinking age to 21 led to a decrease in drunk-driving fatalities

2) Lowering the age to 18 would mean a rampant increase in high school drunkenness, as there are a fair number of 18-year-old high school students.

Just in the interests of being provocative, let me throw out a couple of modest proposals that would address these concerns while also addressing the concerns of the college presidents calling for a lower age:

1) If drunk-driving by 18-year-olds is the concern, lower the drinking age to 18, but raise the driving age to 21. This would have all sorts of beneficial effects beyond stopping teen DUI– it would encourage the use of public transportation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and free up lots of parking on campus.

2) If drinking by high-schoolers is the concern, lower the drinking age to 18, but only for high school graduates. You don’t graduate, you have to wait until you’re 21, or get your GED. That gets students who can buy booze out of the schools, and encourages kids to stay in school.

There you go– problem solved…


  1. #1 Chad Orzel
    August 21, 2008

    I should note, because nobody who needs the clue will catch the title allusion, that I am not entirely serious, here. Both of these proposals run up against my own feelings about class biases.

    Still, I’m sick of seeing this go around and around in the same tired circle, so here are some different ideas to argue about.

  2. #2 PhysioProf
    August 21, 2008

    Is there really any evidence at all that raising the drinking age actually affects the amount of drinking being done by people of an age that becomes below the drinking age? When I was in high-school my friends and I were drunk off our fucking asses on a regular basis starting at the age of around 15. We didn’t even notice when they raised the drinking age to 21.

  3. #3 Becca
    August 21, 2008

    PP- you are the worlds worst role model

  4. #4 Scott Spiegelberg
    August 21, 2008

    I think suggestion #1 is pure genius. Or perhaps no driver’s license until 19, give them a year to get the drinking out of their systems. Ultimately it isn’t about legislation, it is about cultural norms. Our Puritan ancestors really screwed us up about sex and drinking. When it is forbidden = naughty = desirable to do to extremes.

  5. #5 greg laden
    August 21, 2008

    If drunk-driving by 18-year-olds is the concern, lower the drinking age to 18, but raise the driving age to 21

    I’ve been saying this for years. Or, if not raising the driving age, at least doing it differently.

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    August 21, 2008

    My recollection, from finishing high school/starting college during the years when the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21, is that both items were of concern. This was the period when MADD and SADD were getting off the ground. And many of my classmates were drinking heavily in high school.

    Following up on your modest proposal #1: Perhaps this would help force a change where many more areas would have viable public transportation than present. American suburbia is hell for anyone over the age of 13 who does not have a driver’s license–if parents had to put more time into chauffeuring their 16-20 year olds around, they’d be more likely to favor more public transit, anything to let that kid get around on his own (which is why in most places parents encourage their kids to get driver’s licenses as soon as they are old enough).

  7. #7 Chad Orzel
    August 21, 2008

    American suburbia is hell for anyone over the age of 13 who does not have a driver’s license

    You think suburbia is bad, try growing up out in the sticks… In suburbia, you’re at least likely to have friends within a mile or two of your house.

  8. #8 Uncle Al
    August 21, 2008

    To end drinking and sex make both of them mandatory public school curriculum directly administered by the Department of Education. Governments will whine about dwindling sin tax revenues and increasing immigration to maintain population. How is drugging kids senseless by prescription different from the kids titrating their own oblivion? The Nanny State mainlines created problems to retain its hegemony and budgets – a nation of juryless traffic and tax courts.

    Yer gonna protect us from them? Who’s gonna protect us from you?

  9. #9 dkw
    August 21, 2008

    Please. While there are good arguments for both lowering the drinking age and not, I don’t see how anyone can really get into a discussion started by college presidents for the sole purpose of taking responsibilities (and costs) off of themselves and transferring these costs to other places. Maybe if they all pledge to lower tuition by a sizable amount, I wouldn’t feel so cynical about this.

    How about this: Why don’t colleges and universities create a minimum enrollment age of 21? Or at least tie it directly to the drinking age. There, problem solved.

    Not only is there no underage drinking on campus, but it gives students a chance to see the real world a little.

  10. #10 Jamie Bowden
    August 21, 2008

    Or we could, you know, go the EU route where alcohol is concerned, and stop turning our teenagers into binge drinkers because it’s shiny and new. Fuck the puritans. They need a drink and a lay.

  11. #11 Richard
    August 21, 2008

    Consider the constitution clearly does not allow for discrimination of laws based on age. Additionally, it states that “all men are created equal” (under the law) While it is questionable whether laws can apply differently to those under 18, there is no question that they must be applied equally to those over 18. The age 21 drinking law is clearly in violation of the Constitution by any standard and should be repelled challenged on that basis.

  12. #12 Winawer
    August 21, 2008

    Wow – hordes of drunk 18-year olds trying to get onto the bus… your local public transportation union is going to just *love* you! :-)

  13. #13 Kate Nepveu
    August 21, 2008

    Consider the constitution clearly does not allow for discrimination of laws based on age.

    This is a surprise to lawyers (like me) who are familiar with the lengthy series of judicial decisions that permit government to discriminate on the basis of age as long as the distinction has a rational basis.

  14. #14 AndyB
    August 21, 2008

    I actually like Matthew Yglesias’ idea. Say that 18-year olds can either get a drinking license or a driving license, but not both.

  15. #15 Oakley
    August 22, 2008

    The government needs to make a decision. You can’t have it both ways in society. If you are old enogh to go to war, then you are old enough to drink. This BS that our society somehow can justify the morality of the drinking age, but we can send kids to war is f****ng obsurd. Anyone ever notice how the people who make these laws are the ones who rarely have the law pertain to them???????

    Wake the F**K up people! I could care less if the drinking age is lowered or increased. Let’s just have some common sense applied to our world already!

    Please, stop being cattle people.

    Good luck all, we need it!

  16. #16 dreikin
    August 27, 2008

    Funny, I was thinking the first suggestion before I’d even gotten that far. But then again, I have a motive: I don’t drive nor own a car at 22 (voluntarily), but I live in Florida so even the major cities are spread out (and hot, humid, rainy, and sunshine beatin’ down). We’ve got the usual bus transpo, but that only works so well – especially if you have to go from one county to another.

    In the end, I say abolish the drinking age (did I also mention I don’t drink?) and bring on the trains/nationwide subway system!*

    *I’ll save building the international one until I can profit off of it ;-)

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