Why Is the Drinking Age 21?

If you have an appreciation for alcohol, you might have asked yourself: Why is the drinking age 21?

The super-short & sweet answer to that is because of the “National Minimum Drinking Age act of 1984.

Well, cool, but why 21? What was the logic behind it? If you’re curious to know about these answers, follow along.

Well, we now know that the latest National Minimum Drinking Age Act is responsible for making the legal drinking age of 21, part of the reason the states agreed to it was because there was a condition in the act: Either comply with the age we’re requesting or give up your federal highway funding — which surmounted to a sizeable chunk of money.

It seems that the states could refuse to implement the minimum legal drinking age of 21; however, none wanted to give up on their federal funding. By 1988, all states had accepted the age of 21, resulting in the same number everywhere in the country.

Was the Drinking Age Always 21?

No. Prior to 1984, some states had a lower age limit for a while in the ’70s. In 1971, the minimum voting age was decreased to 18, and therefore, discussions around dropping the drinking age started to gain momentum. The argument was quite simple: If people can vote and fight in a war at 18, they should be able to drink much earlier.

The reduced age was enjoyed for some years, until the pushback to bring it back up to 21 achieved traction. One of the dominant hands in these was from a well-renowned organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). According to their website, more than 25K lives have been saved simply due to raising the age again.

Further, they mention that 21 isn’t just an arbitrary number, rather backed up by evidence and research. Cited in the question “Why do we make young people wait until 21 to drink alcohol?” they point out that based on research, younger people react differently to alcohol and tend to get drunk at double the rate than adults. Moreover, it seems that they have less control over knowing when to stop.

screenshot from MADD
Screenshot captured from MADD

Over the course of years after the 1984 act, more and more studies came into the limelight touting benefits of the legal drinking age of 21 — such as fewer fatalities due to drunk driving, less absenteeism in school, etc. In fact, the studies were published by various different organizations and government bodies. So it wasn’t just one supporting the cause; it had diversified rooting from all the angles.

You May Also Want to Check Out:

Expert Sources & Citations