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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Carpenter & Carlos Dobkin, 2011. "The Minimum Legal Drinking Age and Public Health," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(2), pages 133-156, Spring.
  • 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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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.25.2.133
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Ceren Ertan Yörük & Barış Yörük, 2015. "Alcohol consumption and risky sexual behavior among young adults: evidence from minimum legal drinking age laws," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 28(1), pages 133-157, January.
    2. Dara Lee Luca & Emily Owens & Gunjan Sharma, 2015. "Can Alcohol Prohibition Reduce Violence against Women?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(5), pages 625-629, May.
    3. Freeman, Donald G., 2012. "Is Beer Safer than Spirits? How the Change in Consumption Shares of Alcoholic Beverage Types Affects Traffic Mortality in Young People," Journal of International Agricultural Trade and Development, Journal of International Agricultural Trade and Development, vol. 61(4).
    4. Lindo, Jason M. & Swensen, Isaac D. & Waddell, Glen R., 2013. "Alcohol and student performance: Estimating the effect of legal access," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 22-32.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Benjamin Hansen, 2015. "Punishment and Deterrence: Evidence from Drunk Driving," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(4), pages 1581-1617, April.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. Marigee Bacolod & Jesse M. Cunha & Yu-Chu Shen, 2017. "The Impact of Alcohol on Mental Health, Physical Fitness, and Job Performance," NBER Working Papers 23542, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Johanna Catherine Maclean & Ioana Popovici & Elisheva Stern, 2015. "Health Insurance Expansions and Provider Behavior: Evidence from Substance Use Disorder Providers," DETU Working Papers 1510, Department of Economics, Temple University.
    12. 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.
    13. Green, Colin P. & Heywood, John. S. & Navarro, Maria, 2014. "Did liberalising bar hours decrease traffic accidents?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 189-198.
    14. Nabanita Datta Gupta & Anton Nielsson, 2017. "Short- and Long-Term Effects of Adolescent Alcohol Access: Evidence from Denmark," Economics Working Papers 2017-03, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
    15. 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.
    16. 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.
    17. Boes, Stefan & Stillman, Steven, 2017. "You Drink, You Drive, You Die? The Dynamics of Youth Risk Taking in Response to a Change in the Legal Drinking Age," IZA Discussion Papers 10543, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    18. David H. Autor & Christopher J. Palmer & Parag A. Pathak, 2017. "Gentrification and the Amenity Value of Crime Reductions: Evidence from Rent Deregulation," NBER Working Papers 23914, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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