Does 21 Save Lives?

In a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, visiting Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron and Yale Law School student Elina Tetelbaum cast doubt on the conventional wisdom that pressuring states to raise their drinking ages to 21 has substantially reduced traffic fatalities. Overall, they find, adoption of the higher drinking age is associated with an 8 percent drop in traffic fatalities among 18-to-20-year-olds (taking into account vehicle miles traveled), but this effect is concentrated in states that raised their drinking ages on their own, prior to the 1984 law that threatened to withhold highway funds from states that continued allowing people younger than 21 to drink. Even in the early-adopting states, Miron and Tetelbaum say, the drop in fatalities may be partly due to other policies aimed at reducing crashes that were adopted around the same time.

Data from the Monitoring the Future Study (an annual survey of high school students) indicate that the drinking age has, at most, a modest effect on alcohol consumption. A drinking age of 18, Miron and Tetelbaum find, "is associated with an almost 4% increase in drinking participation rates, and approximately a 3% increase in heavy episodic drinking rates." Again, this association is seen mainly in states that raised their drinking ages before 1984, and it may be partly or entirely due to increased underreporting of newly illegal drinking. Notably, the drop in reported drinking found in the Monitoring the Future survey is not accompanied by a drop in reports of alcohol-related accidents.

The legal drinking age of 21 "fails to have the fatality-reducing effects that previous papers have reported," Miron and Tetelbaum conclude. While "most of the variation in the [drinking age] occurred in the 1980s," they note, traffic fatality rates have been "decreasing steadily since 1969," probably due to factors such as improved auto safety standards, medical advances, and better driver training.

[Thanks to Andrew Grossman for the tip.]

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  • ||

    I will bet that no one here who drinks started after age 21. If you started drinking after the age of 21 and drink semi-regularly, say 1-2 times a week, I will give you five dollars...

  • jimmydageek||

    Oh yea, Taktix®? I'll take that bet...

    ...I didn't have a drink 'til about age 5840 (days)...

    Pay up!

  • ||

    You mean to tell me that arbitrarily imposed external controls are no substitute for good judgment and common sense?

  • ||

    But why is all the rum gone?

  • ||

    the Minotoring the Future survey

    Did they also find that may of these young people were being sacrificed to horrible monsters? Or did you get lost in the maze of data and could'nt figure that out?

  • ||

    jimmydageek | July 19, 2007, 7:47am | #
    Oh yea, Taktix®? I'll take that bet...

    ...I didn't have a drink 'til about age 5840 (days)...

    Pay up!


    I'll send it right over, assuming they have mail service in the weird-ass country you live in where they count age by days.

  • ||

    Uh.... 5840 days is 16 years old... I thought the bet was for folks who waited until after they 21... which includes this ol' boy... it was the law, at the time, and as a point of honor, I chose to obey it... On my 21st birthday I drank cherry vodka and Coke... (I didn't know anything about liquor, but I liked Cokes and I liked cherry Cokes, so I assumed I'd like cherry vodka and Coke...) Later the drinking age in Georgia was dropped to 18... then later still, under pressure from the Feds, returned to 21...

    I drink "semi-regularly" these days... like every day that I wake up...

    CB

  • jimmydageek||



    I'll send it right over, assuming they have mail service in the weird-ass country you live in where they count age by days.


    Yea, it's called Florida...and it's a state...and it only applies to me...and I need the money for lunch :)

  • jimmydageek||

    Uh.... 5840 days is 16 years old... I thought the bet was for folks who waited until after they 21...

    Yea, but just for geekiness sakes, didn't specify 21 years of age...

  • ||

    I drink "semi-regularly" these days... like every day that I wake up...

    I guess that doesn't bode well for the nanny crowd who claim that underage drinking is a major cause of alcoholism.

  • ||

    Cracker's Boy,

    You never even had a sip of Dad's beer?

    Jesus, I had a rather large collection of empty Southern Comfort bottles that began accumulating around the age of 17. I got drunk twice on my 21st birthday just to make it a special occasion.

  • KipEsquire||

    MADD's latest rationalization for the rasied drinking age is that it eliminated "border crashes" (i.e., driving from a high-age state to a low-age state, then having a crash driving back).

    This this study take this phenomenon into consideration?

  • KipEsquire||

    "Did this study..."

    Sorry

  • ||

    Taktix,

    I'll take my $5 in one unmarked bill, thank you very much.

    Didn't drink in HS because I didn't, um, interact with others who had any sort of life.

    Didn't drink in college because I was the "designated designated driver" for our clique (did I mention how fun drunk chicks are when you're not?)

    Now I homebrew and put down 3-4 bottles a week.

  • ||

    I first drank to excess at age two.

  • ||

    Wow, I wasn't even in a cool party-having clique in HS and I still managed to consume several times before I even turned 18.

  • ||

    OK, ok...

    So my hyperbole backfired. I would pay up now, but I figure that, for you all to get the $5 owed to you, you might want to wait until Ron Paul is elected and we go back to the gold standard.

    By the time I get the money to you, it won't be worth the price of the stamp.

  • ||

    I don't remember sippin' dad's sudsy... may have as a yoot' but no recollection...

    But I DID know one guy in high school who we thought MIGHT smoke marijuana! (Private school in the mid-sixties... obviously a very sheltered life).

    Assuming I will end up as an alcoholic (since some believe my father was), I am the poster child for early drinking NOT being a factor. My first "consenting" drink at 21 and I didn't really start drinking "regularly" (4+ days a week) until I was in my mid-30's.

    CB

  • ||

    (Hypothetically speaking of course)

    Well I didn't drink really until I was about 22. Mostly because it was much easier to get illegal drugs than alcohol. And once it was legal, bars were kinda boring by comparison, right?

    I think that if this study were to be statistically valid, they need to consider perfect substitutes, and the effects thereof. What happens to marijuana (or ecstasy, acid, shrooms, mescaline, paint huffing, etc) use in the 18-20 crowd when the drinking age moves from 18 to 21?

    I'll bet the $5 I just won from Tactix that illegal drug use goes up when the drinking age goes up.

  • ||

    I don't think there's any disputing that most Americans drink to some extent prior to turning 21. But it's hard to imagine that we wouldn't have all drank a whole lot more at age 18 if alcohol was legal for us.

  • robc||

    I cant quite claim the $5. I did have a few underage drinks. But, other than that I can basically copy Legate's post, including the homebrewing part.

    Did he mention how fun the drunk chicks are when you are not? He's right. But, well for some reason in college I mostly hung out with the sober chicks. Sigh.

  • ||

    But it's hard to imagine that we wouldn't have all drank a whole lot more at age 18 if alcohol was legal for us.

    Nobody's arguing against that (as far as I can tell). The better question Dan is, why is that, in and of itself, such a bad thing?

  • robc||

    Dan T,

    it's hard to imagine that we wouldn't have all drank a whole lot more at age 18 if alcohol was legal for us.

    I dont think it would have been much different for me. The only difference was the dorms were having open keggers a few years before I got there - so accessibility would have been easier. However, I didnt like beer then (I still dont like the beer that would have been served). I started college about 2-3 years after GA upped their drinking age to 21.

  • ||

    Did he mention how fun the drunk chicks are when you are not? He's right. But, well for some reason in college I mostly hung out with the sober chicks. Sigh.

    I think he's wrong. Other drunks are great to hang out with when you're drunk too, and really fucking taxing when you're sober.

  • ||

    I will bet that no one here who drinks started after age 21. If you started drinking after the age of 21 and drink semi-regularly, say 1-2 times a week, I will give you five dollars...

    You can keep the 5$, but I never drank before the age of 25 and only started drinking regularly when I began law school at the age of 28. Obviously, my habits weren't influenced by the law, but there you go.

  • Urkobold™||

    THE URKOBOLD NEVER SAW A NAKED SOBER CHICK IN HIS ENTIRE TIME AT COLLEGE.

  • ||

    Does the study show any correspondence between MADD's revenues and the shift in the drinking age?

    Where do they (MADD) get their money, anyway? Government grants? Have they extorted a profit sharing deal from the alcohol industry, a la the tobacco contras?

  • Janet||

    Children under 21 should not drink, period, end of discussion. It is impossible to drink responsibly, even one minute before turning 21. After a child turns 21 they may be able to drink responsibly.

    It is pretty obvious that raising the age to 21 decreases crashes because if no child under 21 drinks there will be no alcohol related accidents because if it is illegal then children don't drink.

  • Janet||

    Where do they (MADD) get their money, anyway? Government grants?

    They should be made into a fourth branck of government in order to help the police to keep us all sober.

  • Pepe||

    I did more drinking between the ages of 18-21 than I ever did after. It was called college, and the legality of it had very little effect on the availability of alcohol. The only thing that changed when I turned 21 was that I could do it openly and I could go to bars - which had the effect of making it less of a big deal to drink.

  • ||

    Due to the fact that my b-day was after Sept 1 (Sep 30), I was not able to enroll in 1st grade until I was 6.

    So, when I was a junior in HS, I was able to legally drink about a month after school started that year, when I turned 18. This was in Texas. The next year Texas raised the drinking age to 19, then a few years later they knuckled under and raised the age to 21.

    Nothing like a cold one after a hard day of high school. I got in no trouble and didn't ruin my life. I think the drinking age should be 16 and the driving age should be 21.

  • Russ 2000||

    Seems backward to introduce the first-hand effects of operating a motorized vehicle, and then before that skill is mastered (takes a few years apparently, judging from accident rates) allow people to start consuming alcohol.

    If people actually cared about safety rather than moral grandstanding, they'd lower the drinking age to 14 (if not eliminate it completely). It doesn't take most people more than a year or so to discover how difficult it is to function once you have consumed alcohol to excess. By age 15, they'd have a much better understanding and will be less likely to drink when they begin learning the skill of driving a car.

  • Pepe||

    "Did he mention how fun the drunk chicks are when you are not? He's right. But, well for some reason in college I mostly hung out with the sober chicks. Sigh."

    Drunk chicks are only fun when they are just a little drunk and are using it as an excuse to be slutty. Honest to god drunk chicks are a pain in the ass, unless you enjoy getting puked on or are a rapist.

  • ||

    I think the drinking age should be 16 and the driving age should be 21.

    It ought to be harder to get a driver's license. Age should have nothing to do with it. Driving ability however...

  • Anonymous Bastert||

    Janet hit the nail right on the head. Children simply aren't responsible enough to handle the devilish effects of alcohol until precisely the age of 21. It makes perfect sense, and if you don't think so, then you're simply a callous bastard who doesn't care about children.

    Wake up people!

  • Tym||

    The problem with 21 is that it make it difficult to drink at home, in a bar or anywhere in public, so where do you go...YOUR CAR!!! Making it illigal just drives it underground where it is not monitored.

    When I was in 12th grade, I was 17 and the age age was 18, the age changed to 19 when I was 2 months from 18, so I use I was 'Almost' able to handle alcohol responsibly, but suddenly not. Then when I was 20 and 2 months from 21 it changed to age 21 with no grandfather clause, so I guess I was able to handle it, then suddenly not, then able again. I found it pretty insulting to be treated like a child after being treated like an adult for almost 2 years.

  • ||

    Having traveled in countries where there is a low or even no drinking age, I have observed that in societies where children arhave access to alcohol and are introduced to it by adults and learn its usage in an adult setting there is far less inge drinking and alcohol abuse.

    It is also embarrassing to watch one's countrymen who have been deprived of the opportunity to learn how to drink maturely, rampage through these foreign lands getting wasted on cheap plonk, shouting "WHOOOOO" alot and in general making colossal asses of themselves.

  • ||

    Tarran,

    I share your embarrassment.

    What excuse do the Germans have?

  • ||

    tarran,

    I don't agree. I think it has more to do with the inherent boisterousness of the culture in question. Americans have a lot of Scottish and German blood. Therefore, we like to drink and yell like fools. And to fight the Roman menace.

  • SPD||

    due to factors such as improved auto safety standards, medical advances, and better driver training

    Would those be government-imposed auto safety standards? Horrors!

  • ||

    Urkobold™ went to college? To study what?

  • Urkobold™||

    THE URKOBOLD HOLDS A NUMBER OF DOCTORATES, BOTH HONORARY AND EARNED, AS WELL AS A COMMISSION IN THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION.

  • Urkobold&trade||

    AND HAS A Ph.D AS A LINGUIST, TOO.

  • miche||

    Dad owned a bar just outside New Orleans. We always had a casual attitude about booze and I was allowed to finish my dad's beer from his plastic go-cup when he got home. I also remember being 7 and playing Monopoly over Grasshoppers. (Creme de Menthe and milk)

    My kids are allowed to drink at home and the little one (16) has never had a sip outside of my sight.

  • ||

    BUT WHY IS THE RUM GONE!?!

  • ||

    LIT,

    Because farmers are burning fields of sugarcane so that they can replant with corn for ethanol. Yes, sugar is a better source for biofuel, but those subsidies are mighty tempting.

    Better you should say, "Whither tequila?"

  • tomWright||

    As someone that used to be a driving instructor, and also used to drink a bit, (ahem), in my youth, I have thought a bit on this.

    I think we are doing it backwards.

    Right now, we give people drivers licenses at agest ranging from 16-18, allow them to drive on their own long enough that it becomes so second nature it feels no different than walking.

    Then we hand them a beer at age 21 and say: have a party kid. they do, and they die in alcohol related car crashes.

    Instead, let them start drinking at an early age, say 13-15 or so, let them learn how to drink responsibly for, say, 10 years and then allow them to have a drivers license around the age of 25.

    By then they will have learned how much is too much to drink, or they will have killed themselves off with alcohol poisoning or getting hit by sober drivers, falling down gutters, etc.

    Basically, let Darwin do some culling BEFORE they can hurt the rest of us.

  • ||

    tom,

    you are most definitely not thinking of the children

    ProL,

    Tequila makes you do things...bad things...rum just makes you sing and dance...maybe have sex on a boat...therefore I'd rather drink rum.

    But atleast I know why the rum is gone, those bastards.

  • miche||

    I can't smell tequila without shivering. One tattoo on a tequila night 15 years ago screwed that up for me.

  • ||

    I don't drink much now, but I had an out-of-body experience after drinking a bunch of upside-down margaritas "in the saddle" at Chicago's Tequila Roadhouse. They gave me a free shirt for doing so many. And buying said drinks for others.

    What? I was in law school and needed a morally uplifting experience.

  • ||

    AND HAS A Ph.D AS A LINGUIST, TOO.

    ...and a very cunning linguist he must be!

  • ||

    There is still the 1986 Study in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management by Asch and Levy and the 2001 study by Dee and Evans (forgot where) that found the only noticeable effect was "mortality redistribution" and both suggest that there may have been more deaths in the 21-24 group then would have been expected.

    Of course if "blood borders" was really a problem, a slightly better solution would have been to force all states to change their age to 18.

  • Cactus||

    This is what happens when you start listening to nagging women aka Mothers Against Drunk Driving aka Prohibitionists aka Nannies. Once they get power they try to be your mother.

    They don't just try to nag you into submission they use the power of the state to place the boot of someone else's son (because they don't have the guts to do it themselves) on your neck to get you to bend to their will.

    Why do seemingly sane politicians bend to the idiotic ludicrous demands of these scolding thugs? One only needs to look back into history for the correlation between a certain event and when nannyism and prohibition started. What event took place at that time which coincided with the rapid decline in Liberty and the disintegration of our Constitutional Republic since that event took place.

  • ||

    Cactus,

    Fascinating.

    Robert Epstein in his book The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen mentioned this same time frame as the one where teens basically lost all nearly all of their rights and privileges and stopped being viewed as smaller adults or adults in training and became "children" and/or the newly manufactured concept of "adolescent".

  • Let\'s loewr the age||

    This new research is fascinating. Has any one else heard of the organization Choose Responsibility that advocates for states to set the legal age limit and not the federal gov't.

    http://www.chooseresponsibility.org

  • jogger22||

    Cactus,
    I know exactly what you are talking about, but I would only blame that certain event on part of today's problem (100% of prohibition). Rather, the problem most likely stems through another "progressive", as historians call it, amendment. This would be the amendment that took the power of state legislatures to elect senators and placed it in the hands of the people. This allowed less influence from states and a large, inefficient federal government that is out of touch with the majority of the people.

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