Why the US drinking age is 21

  • Published: 23 August 2019
  • 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.

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    After 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 reading

    Watch 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.

    Here are the full remarks with Michael Jackson:

    And another view of that day’s events:

    Here’s the Center for Disease Control’s review of the minimum legal drinking age’s (MLDA) effects (including the paper cited in this video):

    For a dissenting view, you can read this paper questioning the effectiveness of the MLDA:

    This is the Supreme Court case that affirmed the MLDA law.

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Comments • 6 286

  • Phil Edwards
    Phil Edwards  2 months back

    Hey, thanks a lot for watching this Road Trip edition of Almanac. You also really shaped it in a ton of ways.
    Watch the rest of the episodes here: http://bit.ly/2ZzDmkR
    Don't miss them!

    • campkira
      campkira  7 days back

      the rest of the world kid drinking at 18.. by the time at 21 most of they don't drink as much... well usa drink with no ending...

    • bubaq8
      bubaq8  1 weeks back

      Azzambie l

    • Azzambie
      Azzambie  4 weeks back

      @CJ Londonio Our generation has some defects like you

    • CJ Londonio
      CJ Londonio  1 months back

      second lol

  • Ruqyah Services
    Ruqyah Services  6 hours back

    As an Aussie, i learnt about the US drinking age from Tupac :

    "And did you ever stop to think,
    I'm old enough to go to war, but I ain't old enough to drink"

    • matt
      matt  9 hours back

      hoes madd

      • Maggie Mae
        Maggie Mae  22 hours back

        If you can vote, join the military and go to prison at age 18, you should be able to drink

        • HAWG!
          HAWG!  2 days back

          This was the beginning of the end of America.. making rules for the few

          • dvrk 158
            dvrk 158  2 days back

            If I can be drafted to fight in world war 3, then I can drink. I dont care about the laws. They wont catch me drunk if im in my own basement.

            • michaela 13
              michaela 13  2 days back

              i find it ironic that the ad i got for this video was for the Drivetime app, aka the app that encourages phone use while driving. funny how we basically traded in intoxicated driving for distracted driving.

              • Abeng Biring
                Abeng Biring  2 days back

                Please make indonesian (bahasa) subtitles for the video
                Respect from indonesia 🇮🇩

                • Michael Ryan
                  Michael Ryan  2 days back

                  Canada, which kept its low drinking age in the 80s, has witnessed a similar decline in DUI fatalities. THe 21 drinking age in this country has nothing to do with saving lives and everything to do with a bunch of puritanical biddies who can't stand the fact that someone, somewhere--especially teenage boys--might be enjoying life a little.

                  • Über Bacon
                    Über Bacon  3 days back

                    Does anyone know what song they used in the beginning of the video?

                    • videogamerka000
                      videogamerka000  3 days back

                      I can't imagine waiting for 21 birthday just to buy bottle of beer

                      • ominous
                        ominous  4 days back

                        A lack of public transportation?

                        • Mario Trick 869
                          Mario Trick 869  4 days back

                          19 yo: Hey can i have a 12 of beer?

                          Cashier: Nope, thats illegal

                          19 yo: oh ok, ill just take an ar 15, a glock 34, ak 47, and a bazooka to go

                          • lílα wєllѕ
                            lílα wєllѕ  3 days back

                            That’s the way your great grandpappy George Washington wanted it. Don’t talk bad about your Grandpappy!!

                        • Samantha Wasek
                          Samantha Wasek  4 days back

                          Why didn't they all just lower the drinking age to 18?

                          • Andreas
                            Andreas  5 days back

                            We drink in Armenia and in the other post soviet countries from the age of 10 probably.

                            • Fabian Dejesus
                              Fabian Dejesus  6 days back

                              That background music is FIRE.

                              • couchy rick
                                couchy rick  6 days back

                                i feel like raegan was in the wrong for doing this ad quite a few things

                                • please don't
                                  please don't  6 days back

                                  the editing is great, though it sometimes makes me think I'm binging another Strangers Things episode

                                  • Deicide
                                    Deicide  7 days back

                                    DDAMM Drunk Drivers against Mad Mothers

                                    • Stephanie Rideout
                                      Stephanie Rideout  7 days back

                                      Ok I did not expect this video to start with MJ..

                                      • dave h
                                        dave h  7 days back

                                        Its the same with jaywalking....it is strange that you cant be trusted to use your own common sense to cross the road or drink sensibly,but can be trusted to own a gun..

                                        • dave h
                                          dave h  7 days back

                                          When i was a kid i lived in germany (military family) and me and my mates had a local pub,and used to drink and never be asked how old we were at gigs and nighclubs at 14/ 15 years old....
                                          21 years old,considering how long your actual youth lasts,is practically middle aged.....

                                          • dave h
                                            dave h  5 days back

                                            @Dino Alis best times of my life as i remember😄

                                          • Dino Alis
                                            Dino Alis  5 days back

                                            Good times

                                        • Polish Filipino
                                          Polish Filipino  7 days back

                                          Because if it were any lower all the "cool" idiotic teens in highachool would become even dumber. And there's a lot of them...

                                          • C- lass
                                            C- lass  7 days back

                                            In Germany we can drink Alcohol with 16

                                            • Alyssa Danielle
                                              Alyssa Danielle  1 weeks back


                                              • Devin Patel
                                                Devin Patel  1 weeks back

                                                Science: “The brain finishes development at 26 so it’s not safe to drink until then”
                                                USA: “how about no”

                                                • Jordan Howe
                                                  Jordan Howe  1 weeks back

                                                  ... how did they go from this to Trump?

                                                  • Ein Apfel
                                                    Ein Apfel  1 weeks back

                                                    Germany: 16

                                                    • cwbh10
                                                      cwbh10  1 weeks back

                                                      and the cultural change now is underground drinking by young folk, which I believe to be even worse

                                                      • Maiya Madeleine
                                                        Maiya Madeleine  1 weeks back

                                                        _But I still can’t believe how driving is allowed for 16 y/o‘s._
                                                        In Germany you can start doing your license at the end of 16, at 17 you can drive if someone who’s 18+ is with you and only drive alone at the age of 18.

                                                        some of you americans must be like „what? then how do you get anywhere?“
                                                        well there’s something in europe that you americans might not be familiar with:

                                                        *_public transport_*

                                                        • Richard Lew
                                                          Richard Lew  1 weeks back

                                                          Intoxicated driving has a higher fatality rate than getting shot at

                                                          • Adham Ghazali
                                                            Adham Ghazali  1 weeks back

                                                            Isn’t that Stranger Things theme song playing?

                                                            • ღSwnsasyღ _
                                                              ღSwnsasyღ _  1 weeks back

                                                              Ahhh how the drinking age changed drunk driving deaths and accidents... Oh wait....😒

                                                              • Crafter Blox
                                                                Crafter Blox  1 weeks back

                                                                And this is why you don't drink kids

                                                                Except if your 21+ or depressed then you can drink 🤷‍♂

                                                                • Zoo Juice
                                                                  Zoo Juice  2 weeks back

                                                                  Laughs at 18

                                                                  • im lit
                                                                    im lit  2 weeks back

                                                                    Drinking legal age is 21 but you can drive at 16

                                                                  • Paige
                                                                    Paige  2 weeks back

                                                                    Louisiana fun fact: we still feel the effects of withholding of highway funds to this day. Our roads are still terrible, you can actually hear once you've crossed the state line to better roads

                                                                    • Ian de Jongh
                                                                      Ian de Jongh  2 weeks back

                                                                      Drinking should be 18 and driving should be 21. Many young adults are still at university or studying until they are 21. They can make use of public transport within these "hubs". Obviously, kids are drinking at university. It's well documented from American Pie to jokes on Instagram. Rather let them drink earlier, get the stupidity out of them and teach them to be more responsible, so when they get to driving at 21 they know the risks. At the moment you have them driving from 16 and these kids are drinking illegally anyway. So this definitely does not solve the problem in 2019.

                                                                      • Lauren Victoria
                                                                        Lauren Victoria  2 weeks back

                                                                        21? I learn something new every day😄

                                                                        • latengocomoburro
                                                                          latengocomoburro  2 weeks back

                                                                          6:00 Stranger Things!!!

                                                                          • Sultan
                                                                            Sultan  2 weeks back

                                                                            simple answer: federal highway funds.

                                                                            • Keion Adams
                                                                              Keion Adams  2 weeks back

                                                                              Im red green colorblind so that map looked like nothing to me

                                                                              • Robin Robin
                                                                                Robin Robin  2 weeks back

                                                                                My parents taught me about responsibility. Including alcohol.

                                                                                • Robin Robin
                                                                                  Robin Robin  2 weeks back

                                                                                  MADD founder was caught drinking and driving

                                                                                  • Alyssa Billips
                                                                                    Alyssa Billips  2 weeks back

                                                                                    It wasn't the founder, it was a president of a chapter

                                                                                • Hanna H.
                                                                                  Hanna H.  2 weeks back

                                                                                  So are we just gonna ignore the Stranger Things' theme playing?

                                                                                  • Rodrigo Baldeon
                                                                                    Rodrigo Baldeon  2 weeks back

                                                                                    I without watching the video: 18th and 21st amendment, Prohibition

                                                                                    • Brian
                                                                                      Brian  2 weeks back

                                                                                      The US is a third world country without malaria.

                                                                                      • bandaid boy
                                                                                        bandaid boy  2 weeks back

                                                                                        So 16 year olds can drive around in a massive metal machine powered by explosions, but you have to be 21 to drink a beverage?