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Does Changing the Legal Drinking Age Influence Youth Behaviour?

  • Boes, Stefan

    ()

    (University of Lucerne)

  • Stillman, Steven

    ()

    (University of Otago)

This paper examines the impact of a reduction in the legal drinking age in New Zealand from 20 to 18 on alcohol use, and alcohol-related hospitalisations and vehicular accidents among teenagers. We use both a difference-in-differences approach and a regression discontinuity design (RDD) to examine the impact of the law change. Our main findings are that lowering the legal drinking age did not appear to have led to, on average, an increase in alcohol consumption or binge drinking among 15-17 or 18-19 year-olds. However, there is evidence that the law change led to a significant increase in alcohol-related hospital admission rates for 18-19 year-olds, as well as for 15-17 year-olds. While these increases are large in relative magnitude, they are small in the absolute number of affected teenagers. Finally, we find no evidence for an increase in alcohol-related vehicular accidents at the time of the law change for any teenagers. In an important methodological contribution, we show that one approach commonly used to estimate the impact of changing the legal drinking age on outcomes, an RDD that compares individuals just younger than the drinking age to those just older, has the potential to give misleading results. Overall, our results support the argument that the legal drinking age can be lowered without leading to large increases in detrimental outcomes for youth.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 7522.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp7522
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  1. Christopher Carpenter & Carlos Dobkin, 2009. "The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Mortality: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from the Minimum Drinking Age," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 164-82, January.
  2. Guido Imbens & Karthik Kalyanaraman, 2010. "Optimal bandwidth choice for the regression discontinuity estimator," CeMMAP working papers CWP05/10, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  3. Imbens, Guido W. & Lemieux, Thomas, 2008. "Regression discontinuity designs: A guide to practice," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 615-635, February.
  4. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275, February.
  5. Yörük, BarIs K. & Yörük, Ceren Ertan, 2011. "The impact of minimum legal drinking age laws on alcohol consumption, smoking, and marijuana use: Evidence from a regression discontinuity design using exact date of birth," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 740-752, July.
  6. David S. Lee & Thomas Lemieux, 2010. "Regression Discontinuity Designs in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(2), pages 281-355, June.
  7. Conover, Emily & Scrimgeour, Dean, 2013. "Health consequences of easier access to alcohol: New Zealand evidence," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 570-585.
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