Why the US drinking age is 21

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 DE-visions 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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  • 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: bit.ly/2ZzDmkR Don't miss them!

    Phil EdwardsPhil EdwardsVor 24 Tage
    • @CJ Londonio Our generation has some defects like you

      AzzambieAzzambieVor 20 Stunden
    • second lol

      CJ LondonioCJ LondonioVor 20 Tage
    • Your stories are so informative and incredibly interesting. Always so well researched and well presented

      Max SugermanMax SugermanVor 21 Tag
  • Long story short: instead of making a campaign about drinking responsibly and making good public transportation, they've increased the drinking age. Brilliant, 'murica!

    rocko44444444rocko44444444Vor 48 Minuten
  • Here in the UK we start drinking heavy at 12

    Newcastle utd 1892Newcastle utd 1892Vor 3 Stunden
  • I america they drink at 21, in slovakia we think that we'll stop at that age.

    Snowy 4Snowy 4Vor 5 Stunden
  • What did it all have to do with Michael Jackson?

    Vikas AhujaVikas AhujaVor 7 Stunden
  • in denmark we can buy alcohol at the age 16

    William DeslerWilliam DeslerVor 10 Stunden
  • I miss ronald reagen

    Web LogWeb LogVor 10 Stunden
  • Why dont just drop every state to 18 lul

    Shish KShish KVor 15 Stunden
  • Most questionable policies can be traced back to Reagan. Insurance companies were the big lobbyists behind getting the age raised.

    Bobbie LeeBobbie LeeVor Tag
  • My parents never restricted me from drinking alcohol, and now I understand moderation and don’t care to drink at all.

    MaxRanIn2aWallMaxRanIn2aWallVor Tag
  • but you can shoot a school up with 14 years so it‘s something 🤷🏻‍♂️

    Sha CloonSha CloonVor Tag
  • So that ya'll wont raid Area 51. But that didnt work, did it?

    CutUr BullShitCutUr BullShitVor Tag
  • Maybe set guns to 21 and alcohol to 18

    Pak NegerPak NegerVor Tag
  • The easiest thing to do is bash the logic of a decision of the past ignoring its reality, its context. America went from a relatively sober, responsible society to a derailed one full of drunks, drug users, abusers, high marital abuse and divorce rates, in a matter of half a generation. We can argue all day whether Reagan’s tough on crime, tough on drugs laws helped or didnt help in the long run...but dont ignore the fact that the 70s and 80s were such a shock for this country that, wrong or right, something had to be done! Talk about reform, we always should! But dont bash the guy who made a song named Beat It, literally crying out loud to stop the nonsense. 1983 was the most murderous year of the 20th century and the most with drunk driving deaths! Keep that in mind before judging these laws!

    endrief1endrief1Vor Tag
  • I'm watching this tipsy XD

    unoriginal usernameunoriginal usernameVor Tag
  • I'm watching this tipsy XD

    unoriginal usernameunoriginal usernameVor Tag
  • Thanks FLORIDA

    I have wasted my lifeI have wasted my lifeVor Tag
  • 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.

    3506Dodge3506DodgeVor 2 Tage
  • hmm.. wonder why they havent done that with the age of consent? it varies from state to state....

    Kieran JaymesKieran JaymesVor 2 Tage
  • americans we banned diner surprise since kids were choking also america we let kids buy guns

    chingchonglinkchingchonglinkVor 2 Tage
  • If amendments are added to the U.S.A. constitution often, why the second one is so untouchable?

    Dani3poDani3poVor 2 Tage
  • Why the US drinking age is 21? Rooted results prohibition from 20s and 30s.Maybe? (European explanation )

    MrCouchmenMrCouchmenVor 2 Tage
  • Why is Michael Jackson even in this video?

    Robert VincentRobert VincentVor 2 Tage
  • 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

    Robert VincentRobert VincentVor 2 Tage
  • Because of the choice of music, I kept expecting Stranger Things title-screen to pop up

    No coNo coVor 2 Tage
  • 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.

    Max SterlingMax SterlingVor 3 Tage
  • You used Sharpiegate and turned it into something creative I see :D

    Tobias SchächteleTobias SchächteleVor 3 Tage
  • If you’re still complaining, the rule can be reversed. Drinking age at 18 and driving at 21. Still maintaining DUI level.

    Alejandro SudiroAlejandro SudiroVor 3 Tage
  • But you can buy an AR15 at like 12

  • 21 or 18 poison is a poison

    steward joeysteward joeyVor 3 Tage
  • The drinking age in Germany is 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for liquor.

    David PerryDavid PerryVor 3 Tage
  • Too much disrespect on MJ man. What ever you believe is YOUR opinion.

    CryscoCryscoVor 3 Tage
  • *gets alcohol ad before video*

    Newty BoyNewty BoyVor 3 Tage
  • Michael Jackson has literally nothing to do with the problem or solution. You can still get the whole point of the video if it doesn't include Michael Jackson at all.

    Muhammad Ilham JamaludinMuhammad Ilham JamaludinVor 4 Tage
  • i wrote an essay about this last year

    sarah chickiesarah chickieVor 4 Tage
  • I'll save you about 10 minutes: The Federal Government threatened to withhold funds for roads if states did not change their drinking laws to 21+. Louisiana was the last hold out, but the federal purse strings were too important, and they eventually caved, making us a 21+ drinking nation. There. Now you have 9:15 to do other stuff.

    Iahi GhusakIahi GhusakVor 4 Tage
  • lol at Vox biting one of Jon Bois's favorite public-domain background tunes

    domukazdomukazVor 4 Tage
  • In Germany u can buy bottles of wine and beer at 16^^

    Patryk EstevezPatryk EstevezVor 4 Tage
  • I thought it had to do with America's imperial system..and did MJ try to get kids drunk before puberty? Is that why it changed to + 21? I'm confused...

    Hrnn PgttHrnn PgttVor 4 Tage
  • 🤔

    Tate pilgerTate pilgerVor 4 Tage
  • I had a Modelo ad for this video 😂😂😂

    Christen CummingsChristen CummingsVor 4 Tage
  • "...you have to be 21 in every state to buy alcohol" Don't you hate when you are 21 in every other states but not in New York so you can't buy drinks? After thinking about it, because of the time zone difference something like that could actually happen :(

    Andre ZouAndre ZouVor 4 Tage
  • Yet another reason to hate Reagan

    Mirror16Mirror16Vor 4 Tage
  • What's the difference between 21 and 21+?

    William BlairWilliam BlairVor 4 Tage
    • 21 alone, on the map, means 21 with exceptions.

      Casi PaulCasi PaulVor 3 Stunden
    • William Blair it’s probably not state wide ? Like some cities can have 21 some 23 some 25 most likely but don’t quote me on that I am probably wrong, just a thought

      DeadshotS 4444DeadshotS 4444Vor 4 Tage
  • Love the legal beer at 16 in Germany

    MytexMytexVor 5 Tage
  • What’s 21 going to do? Americans drive at 16! Kids driving! And you wonder why there’s crashes...? Glad to be European

    Ire96Ire96Vor 5 Tage
  • And then there are countries where the legal drinking age for beer, wine - and the age of consent - is 14. Ah, good old Europe!

    TheMrFabian1TheMrFabian1Vor 5 Tage
  • Hey, where can I get a cool cleanable writeable map like that?

    Gabriel AbrahãoGabriel AbrahãoVor 5 Tage
  • Either the age should be 18 to drink, or the draft and vote age should be 21

    Abba the DaneAbba the DaneVor 5 Tage
  • Got a beer ad lol

    1000 subs with no Videos challenge1000 subs with no Videos challengeVor 5 Tage
  • Thank you, this is dope.

    Richard PowellRichard PowellVor 5 Tage
  • Wait wait wait. "I am from the government and i am here to help" thats 11 not 9 3:32

    No NameNo NameVor 5 Tage
  • Puerto Rico: 18 you can drink, but we have the hardest gun laws in the USA.

    Miguel AguilarMiguel AguilarVor 5 Tage
  • love that i could literally be sent to federal prison and charged as an adult but i can’t even get a mikes hard lemonade

    Lexi WashingtonLexi WashingtonVor 5 Tage
  • lol 'merica

    BoydyBoydyVor 5 Tage
  • America is and always was a mess - a failed experiment

    Sam ParaSam ParaVor 5 Tage
  • Almost 90% of Americans that drink, have had a drink before 18, illegally tho

    Mr. CleanMr. CleanVor 5 Tage
  • The character and composure of Reagan is a stark contrast between him and Trump.

    Alvin BarriosAlvin BarriosVor 5 Tage
    • Idk Reagan is good evidence for those who argue that character and composure are superficial qualities as they relate to the presidency. Definitely more than one kind of character and composure that makes for effective leadership (for better or for worse. Almost always for worse)

      Alexander WeschlerAlexander WeschlerVor 5 Tage
  • Should have risen the driving age not the drinking age hehe

    xaviiiivxaviiiivVor 5 Tage
  • Michael Jackson had extremely little to do with changing the drinking age. You never explained in depth as to how. The mention of his allegations were unnecessary as well.

    Laniiyah ScottLaniiyah ScottVor 6 Tage
  • It should be 26.

    nuclearmonsternuclearmonsterVor 6 Tage
  • Denying an entire class of voters based upon age discrimination, against Federal law, revoking rights based solely upon age. Violating Federal law.

    Pornald TrumpPornald TrumpVor 6 Tage
  • I learned in health class that the part of your brain that tells you right from wrong wouldn’t be fully developed until 21.

    DJ ScreamDJ ScreamVor 6 Tage
  • Americans can drive at 16 (I think?) so I feel like its the combination of being new to drink and driving that makes things dangerous. In the UK, most people start drinking at 15-17, however we legally can't drive till we're 17/18 at the YOUNGEST. Cars arent normal to own unless you drive as part of your job, and even then you need a black box & insurance is so high that most people - especially those in cities with good public transport - don't start to drive till they're in their 20s.

    Scr3amerrrScr3amerrrVor 6 Tage
  • You guys make the best videos!

    Kerim DemirkanKerim DemirkanVor 6 Tage
  • Very smart, the alcohol limit should be 0% for driving though

    1966human1966humanVor 6 Tage
  • Because Americans mature more slowly than the rest of the world, so a 21 year-old American is at the same level of physical and mental development as a 15 or 16 year-old elsewhere.

    [deleted][deleted]Vor 6 Tage
  • Funny it never stopped us from drinking under the age of 18 . How did his just say no policy work ? I still don’t understand republicans . If you don’t like the government why run for office ? Their hypocrisy knows no bounds .

    Salee SellersSalee SellersVor 6 Tage
  • Should have implemented a public transit system

    Dom WingsDom WingsVor 6 Tage
  • From a systematic standpoint those age differences are making no sense, if you are adult by law you are adult with all rights and obligations.

    Max HeadshotMax HeadshotVor 6 Tage
Why the US drinking age is 21