Wall Street Journal
May 20, 2011
Two economists have concluded that lowering the drinking age to 18 could lead to an 8% increase in deaths among 18-to-20-year-olds, or an additional 8 deaths per 100,000 people. Recent proposals to lower the drinking age—including from college presidents—should therefore face “a very high burden of proof,” they say.
Currently, an 8% jump occurs at 21, the researchers found, using mortality statistics from the National Vital Statistics System, from 1997 to 2003—showing that alcohol laws continue to shape behavior, despite widespread flouting of those laws. Two important categories in which deaths jumped were motor vehicle deaths and suicide.
The researchers also looked at mortality, from 1975 to 1993, in the states that lowered their drinking ages during the 1970s and ’80s, only to raise them back. They compared people born just a few years apart, in each state, who got to drink legally at either 18 or 21. (The idea as that these groups were demographically identical, except for the legality of their drinking.) When 18-to-20-year-olds could drink, the study found, there was a 17% increase in nighttime driving deaths in that category.
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