Why the US drinking age is 21

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  • Published on:  Friday, August 23, 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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  • Source: https://youtu.be/9aWYJugVTs4


  • Phil Edwards

    Phil Edwards

     21 days ago +328

    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!

  • unoriginal username

    unoriginal username

     14 minutes ago

    I'm watching this tipsy XD

  • unoriginal username

    unoriginal username

     14 minutes ago

    I'm watching this tipsy XD

  • I have wasted my life

    I have wasted my life

     2 hours ago

    Thanks FLORIDA

  • 3506Dodge


     6 hours ago

    This isn't strictly true. You must be 21 to make a retail purchase of alcohol, but you can possess, consume, receive, sell, and serve alcohol at various ages in various states.

  • Kieran Jaymes

    Kieran Jaymes

     15 hours ago

    hmm.. wonder why they havent done that with the age of consent? it varies from state to state....

  • chingchonglink


     16 hours ago

    americans we banned diner surprise since kids were choking

    also america we let kids buy guns

  • Dani3po


     16 hours ago

    If amendments are added to the U.S.A. constitution often, why the second one is so untouchable?

  • MrCouchmen


     17 hours ago

    Why the US drinking age is 21? Rooted results prohibition from 20s and 30s.Maybe?
    (European explanation )

  • Robert Vincent

    Robert Vincent

     20 hours ago

    Why is Michael Jackson even in this video?

  • Robert Vincent

    Robert Vincent

     20 hours ago +3

    The USA have so rapidly become one of the most pitiable and ridiculous countries from once being an example for the rest of the world

  • No co

    No co


    Because of the choice of music, I kept expecting Stranger Things title-screen to pop up

  • Max Sterling

    Max Sterling


    Drinking age in Ontario is 19 and in Quebec is 18, all the 18+ year old going to college in cities bordering Canada drive their to drink legally.

  • Tobias Schächtele

    Tobias Schächtele


    You used Sharpiegate and turned it into something creative I see :D

  • Alejandro Sudiro

    Alejandro Sudiro


    If you’re still complaining, the rule can be reversed. Drinking age at 18 and driving at 21. Still maintaining DUI level.




    But you can buy an AR15 at like 12

  • steward joey

    steward joey


    21 or 18 poison is a poison

  • David Perry

    David Perry

     2 days ago

    The drinking age in Germany is 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for liquor.

  • Crysco


     2 days ago

    Too much disrespect on MJ man. What ever you believe is YOUR opinion.

  • Newty Boy

    Newty Boy

     2 days ago

    gets alcohol ad before video