Why the US drinking age is 21

by: Vox     Published on: 23 August 2019

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Why is the US drinking age 21? And how did it happen? In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards explores the history of the somewhat unusual way the drinking age became 21.Help us make more ambitious videos by joining the Vox Video Lab. It brings you closer to our work and gets you exclusive perks, like livestream Q&As with all the Vox creators, a badge that levels up over time, and video extras bringing you closer to our work! Learn more at http://bit.ly/video-labAfter prohibition — the total ban on alcohol — many states established a minimum legal drinking age of 21. But that began to change after the voting age was lowered to 18. Many states followed by lowering their drinking ages, which changed the landscape for the entire country.By the 1980s, this unusual patchwork of drinking ages started to be seen as a problem, especially by activist organizations like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) and RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers). They lobbied for a 21-year-old minimum legal drinking age, and President Ronald Reagan supported the cause. His mechanism for enabling a national law? Threatening to withhold Federal Highway funding to states that didn’t comply.It was an unpredictable strategy for an official typically hesitant to use federal power over the states, and the practice was eventually challenged in the Supreme Court, where it was upheld.Beyond the political clash, it’s a look at how roads shape policy.Further readingWatch President Reagan’s speech about his alcohol policy. The Reagan Library on YouTube has a huge repository of speeches, photo ops, and ephemera related to the Reagan Presidency.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfe-hU6zGS8Here are the full remarks with Michael Jackson:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgFgTs5N8q8And another view of that day’s events:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHSf8sIMBM8Here’s the Center for Disease Control’s review of the minimum legal drinking age’s (MLDA) effects (including the paper cited in this video):https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/minimum-legal-drinking-age.htmFor a dissenting view, you can read this paper questioning the effectiveness of the MLDA:https://www.nber.org/papers/w13257.pdfThis is the Supreme Court case that affirmed the MLDA law.https://www.oyez.org/cases/1986/86-260Subscribe to our channel! http://goo.gl/0bsAjOVox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out http://www.vox.com.Watch our full video catalog: http://goo.gl/IZONyEFollow Vox on Facebook: http://goo.gl/U2g06oOr Twitter: http://goo.gl/XFrZ5H