Why is the US Drinking Age 21 in the First Place?

To lower the pressure for binge-drinking, presidents of some of the largest colleges and universities in the United States have been advocating that the national drinking age of 21 be lowered (see our previous post).

But why is the drinking age 21 to begin with? Ethan Trex of our pal mental_floss blog writes:

... how did we end up with a drinking age of 21 in the first place?

In short, we ended up with a national minimum age of 21 because of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. This law basically told states that they had to enact a minimum drinking age of 21 or lose up to ten percent of their federal highway funding. Since that’s serious coin, the states jumped into line fairly quickly. Interestingly, this law doesn’t prohibit drinking per se; it merely cajoles states to outlaw purchase and public possession by people under 21. Exceptions include possession (and presumably drinking) for religious practices, while in the company of parents, spouses, or guardians who are over 21, medical uses, and during the course of legal employment.

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People at 18 drink whether or not the age is lowered. Therefore, they can drink and drive whenever they want. People who argue that this is not the case really don't know that alcohol is readily available to anyone. Also, people who "have the right" to die in a war cannot go out and drink? Yet we are adults? That is extremely unfair. Giving the right to drink to only people who are enlisted still isn't justified because we still, at any time, can go off to war. Yet, we still can't do whatever we want however, people still look to us to be responsible and be adults now. If that's the case raise the legal adult age to 21.
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“It’s really the parent’s fault in the first place for not being in control of their kids…” I completely disagree with this statement. Although parental control may be a possible reason for the problems that have erupted regarding underage drinking, it is definitely not the primary cause. Every year, thousands of eighteen year olds graduate from high school and flee off to college. This is where the vast majority of underage drinking takes place, completely out of reach for most parents. Students may figure that they are far from home – who’s watching? In this instance, how can any parents be the ones put to blame? Being sent off to college suggests a spirit of independence, a rite of passage. It has been clearly misunderstood that this “rite of passage” should also include drinking.
Recently, a large sum of college presidents signed a statement urging politicians to lower the drinking age. If any mother from MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) were to express their grief and misery after the loss of a child due to a drunk driver, the arguments of any college presidents who signed the statement to lower the drinking age would be mute. Twenty four years ago, the federal government saved countless numbers of lives by rising the drinking age to 21 and now college presidents (of all people) want to lower it. Everyone argues that eighteen year olds who go off to war deserve a beer. If having a beer at eighteen is that big of a deal, then perhaps the military can provide some sort of supervised drinking for those enlisted. Otherwise, those students given the “legal right” to drink at 18 will inevitably be responsible for more alcohol-related deaths.
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Although here in the UK it is 18, you have to look over 25 so as not to be asked for I.D. It went up from 'Must Look 21' not long ago and in some ASDA supermarkets they won't even allow you to buy drink unless everyone you are with has I.D!

Once they wouldn't allow my girlfriend to buy some wine because she had her cousin with her who is 10 years old! Makes me wonder what they say to a family who go shopping together and the mother/father want to buy some beer/wine...obviously isn't for their 5 year old sons/daughters!
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So if you are accompanied by a person of 21 years and are in a private residence it is legal to drink under the age of 21?

SO what about that lady who was arrested and ultimately lost her house job family and life effectively because she provided beer at her sons 17th birthday party?

I do find US puritanical laws weird.
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@Jerse:
"It’s really the parent’s fault in the first place for not being in control of their kids…"

Agreed. However, I believe this is the kind of law designed for those who *don't* have good parents to tell them what they should do.

Of course, such a law doesn't stop anyone from getting alcohol, but that doesn't mean the *law* is wrong.
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