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The Minimum Legal Drinking Age and Public Health

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  • Christopher Carpenter
  • Carlos Dobkin

Abstract

The Amethyst Initiative, signed by more than 100 college presidents and other higher education officials calls for a reexamination of the minimum legal drinking age in the United States. A central argument of the initiative is that the U.S. minimum legal drinking age policy results in more dangerous drinking than would occur if the legal drinking age were lower. A companion organization called Choose Responsibility explicitly proposes "a series of changes that will allow 18-20 year-olds to purchase, possess and consume alcoholic beverages." Does the age-21 drinking limit in the United States reduce alcohol consumption by young adults and its harms, or as the signatories of the Amethyst Initiative contend, is it "not working"? In this paper, we summarize a large and compelling body of empirical evidence which shows that one of the central claims of the signatories of the Amethyst Initiative is incorrect: setting the minimum legal drinking age at 21 clearly reduces alcohol consumption and its major harms. We use a panel fixed effects approach and a regression discontinuity approach to estimate the effects of the minimum legal drinking age on mortality, and we also discuss what is known about the relationship between the minimum legal drinking age and other adverse outcomes such as nonfatal injury and crime. We document the effect of the minimum legal drinking age on alcohol consumption and estimate the costs of adverse alcohol-related events on a per-drink basis. Finally we consider implications for the correct choice of a minimum legal drinking age.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.25.2.133
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 25 (2011)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 133-56

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:25:y:2011:i:2:p:133-56

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.2.133
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References

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  1. Tara Watson & Angela Fertig, 2008. "Minimum Drinking Age Laws and Infant Health Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 14118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Ashenfelter, Orley & Greenstone, Michael, 2002. "Using Mandated Speed Limits to Measure the Value of a Statistical Life," IZA Discussion Papers 571, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Thomas S. Dee, 2001. "The Effects of Minimum Legal Drinking Ages on Teen Childbearing," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 36(4), pages 823-838.
  4. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," NBER Working Papers 8841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Kenkel, Donald S, 1993. "Drinking, Driving, and Deterrence: The Effectiveness and Social Costs of Alternative Policies," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(2), pages 877-913, October.
  6. Phelps, Charles E., 1988. "Death and taxes : An opportunity for substitution," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 1-24, March.
  7. Hahn, Jinyong & Todd, Petra & Van der Klaauw, Wilbert, 2001. "Identification and Estimation of Treatment Effects with a Regression-Discontinuity Design," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(1), pages 201-09, January.
  8. Ruhm, Christopher J., 1996. "Alcohol policies and highway vehicle fatalities," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 435-454, August.
  9. Viscusi, W Kip & Aldy, Joseph E, 2003. " The Value of a Statistical Life: A Critical Review of Market Estimates throughout the World," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 27(1), pages 5-76, August.
  10. Dee, Thomas S., 1999. "State alcohol policies, teen drinking and traffic fatalities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 289-315, May.
  11. Christopher Carpenter, 2004. "Heavy alcohol use and youth suicide: Evidence from tougher drunk driving laws," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(4), pages 831-842.
  12. Carpenter, Christopher, 2004. "How do Zero Tolerance Drunk Driving Laws work?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 61-83, January.
  13. Lovenheim, Michael F. & Slemrod, Joel, 2010. "The fatal toll of driving to drink: The effect of minimum legal drinking age evasion on traffic fatalities," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 62-77, January.
  14. Carpenter, Christopher, 2005. "Youth alcohol use and risky sexual behavior: evidence from underage drunk driving laws," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 613-628, May.
  15. Christopher Carpenter & Carlos Dobkin, 2007. "The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Mortality: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from the Minimum Drinking Age," NBER Working Papers 13374, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Christopher S. Carpenter, 2005. "Heavy Alcohol Use and the Commission of Nuisance Crime: Evidence from Underage Drunk Driving Laws," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 267-272, May.
  17. Joksch, Hans C. & Jones, Ralph K., 1993. "Changes in the drinking age and crime," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 209-221.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Philip J. Cook & Christine Piette Durrance, 2011. "The Virtuous Tax: Lifesaving and Crime-Prevention Effects of the 1991 Federal Alcohol-Tax Increase," NBER Working Papers 17709, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Cook, Philip J. & Durrance, Christine Piette, 2013. "The virtuous tax: Lifesaving and crime-prevention effects of the 1991 federal alcohol-tax increase," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 261-267.
  3. Clifford Winston, 2013. "On the Performance of the U.S. Transportation System: Caution Ahead," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 51(3), pages 773-824, September.
  4. Ceren Ertan Yoruk & Baris Yoruk, 2013. "Alcohol Consumption and Risky Sexual Behavior Among Young Adults: Evidence from Minimum Legal Drinking Age Laws," Discussion Papers 13-11, University at Albany, SUNY, Department of Economics.
  5. Colin Green & John Heywood & Maria Navarro Paniagua, 2013. "Did liberalising English and Welsh bar hours cause traffic accidents?," Working Papers 33996659, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
  6. Lindo, Jason M. & Swensen, Isaac D. & Waddell, Glen R., 2011. "Alcohol and Student Performance: Estimating the Effect of Legal Access," IZA Discussion Papers 5525, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Ertan Yörük, Ceren & Yörük, Barış K., 2012. "The impact of drinking on psychological well-being: Evidence from minimum drinking age laws in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(10), pages 1844-1854.
  8. Eisenberg, Daniel & Golberstein, Ezra & Whitlock, Janis L., 2014. "Peer effects on risky behaviors: New evidence from college roommate assignments," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 126-138.
  9. Donald Freeman, 2012. "Income and Preventable Mortality: The Case of Youth Traffic Fatalities," Working Papers 1201, Sam Houston State University, Department of Economics and International Business.

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