Poll: should the US drinking age be lowered?

John McCardell is not exactly the face you would expect to be making an issue of lowering the drinking age in the US. But he is becoming the issue’s poster child.

McCardell, the president emeritus of Middlebury College, is described as having “gray hair, gray suit, soft voice” in an provocative piece on the subject by George Will in the WaPo. Quote:

McCardell thinks that, on campuses, a drinking age of 21 infantilizes students, encouraging immature behavior with alcohol and disrespect for law generally. Furthermore, an “enforcement only” policy makes school administrations adversaries of students and interferes with their attempts to acquaint students with pertinent information, such as the neurological effects of alcohol on young brains. He notes that 18-year-olds have a right to marry, adopt children, serve as legal guardians for minors and purchase firearms from authorized dealers, and are trusted with the vote and military responsibilities. So, he says, it is not unreasonable to think that they can, with proper preparation, be trusted to drink.

So what do you think? Have your say with the new polling software!

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17 Responses to “Poll: should the US drinking age be lowered?”

  1. I’ve had the luck of being a underage student at a rather lax school in the States (U of Chicago, hope you’re teaching there next year), as well as, legal student over here in the UK. While to some extent it does “infantilize” students, there seem to be stronger arguments around. While the old standby, “you can die for your country but not have a drink” seems trivial to many because of its commonness, there is a lot there. It seems a sad sad world where we see liqour as more of a responsiblity than citizenship.

  2. Sorry, kind of lost track of where i started there. Namely, kids do stupid things while drunk and getting to college wherever you are, whatever the laws. If anything I’ve watched more kids hurt themselves in the UK than at home. It is just in the states instead of / in addition to getting physically hurt, you get a legal smack as well.

  3. It seems that the problem is not with the legal age limit but the way society treats alcohol. My parents had a very lax approach to wine and beer consumption, I was allowed to drink beer and wine with dinner in moderation before I was 18. My parents also stressed the importance of not drinking and driving. When I was in college I was less interested in being a drunken fool than most of my peers. Really this isn’t saying much since I was at Ohio State, but it does say something.

    If alcohol were used/viewed in most of society not as an intoxicant, but as beverage to be enjoyed, a drinking age wouldn’t be needed.

  4. Agree, it’s not about the age when it’s used, but the way it’s treated. In France and much of Europe, families introduce their children to it at a fairly young age over the table, with food in very moderate quantities – and regardless of the drinking age there, it’s not seen as an intoxicant, but really a drink to be had in the same moderation as most other foods.

    In the US, there’s a completely different culture around it – it’s looked at as something turned to in large quantities for people to ‘get away’ from the real world, or a substance to binge on at frat parties more than it is as a drink for the table. Unless that changes, changing the age limit isn’t going to have much of an effect.

  5. Only if the driving age is elevated to 21. That’s really the whole problem.

  6. Its seems bizarre, in the USA, that a person of 17 isn’t mature enough to buy himself/herself a beer – yet deemed old enough to join the army, be given a gun and told to go and fight in a war!?

    I think there are a few laws that the USA should perhaps revisit – the gun laws in particular.

  7. No it should not be lowered.

    I believe that there would be less MIP’s however there would be more DUI’s!

  8. Interesting discussion!

    To Ryan and Salil’s points about the culture of consumption, Nick Lander (aka Mr. Jancis Robinson) tackled this issue in his story in the FT last week:

    He went to Verona’s wine bars and saw that the patrons were not tossing back the wine despite it being a fraction of the price in the UK. His theory, perhaps a pet theory since he has clearly been putting it to the test since the 1980s, is that the presence of food reduces alcohol consumption.

    While it’s true you can’t physically eat and drink and eat at the same time, I’m not sure that if your goal was to get schnockered, that you couldn’t work out a way to do so even if you had a plate of free tapas in front of you. But it sounds like a theory in need of further research–the fun kind of research, hanging out in wine bars!

  9. While I’m generally in favor of lowering the drinking age, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch or just changing a number.

    I think that a public education campaign about how to drink responsibly would be necessary, and in the contentious political climate we’re in, with some finding moral turpitude in every corner, I don’t see it happening.

    If the age were lowered, there would be wide cultural variations in the ways alcohol is consumed. Some would abuse it. Some would treat it sensibly, with moderation. Over the course of a generation or two, there would be some “smoothing out” of the differences, maybe, but I’d bet there would be a short-term spike in 19 year olds driving drunk.

    Sidebar: There’s also the idea that you give someone under 21 a license to drink, or a license to drive, but not both. Not sure how I feel about that, but it could get around the drunk driving problem and create a pool of designated drivers…

  10. It seems no surprise that readers of a wine blog would overwhelmingly support a reduction of the drinking age. I, too, agree with the comment that the law, however, has little to do with American drinking problems – it’s all about society. But then I would hope that lowering the drinking age would be a sign of social change regarding American attitude towards alcohol.

    Laws or not, if you aren’t raised appreciated alcohol for what it is, you may have trouble doing so when first “legally” exposed to it. If we all grew up with dinner and wine, I doubt we’d have as many winos in our midst. And I’m not referring to the “winos” that we responsible wine lovers often call ourselves in jest.

    Plus, isn’t a family dinner one of the best ways to appreciate wine anyway? (On so many levels!)

  11. I agree with Jared S., the drinking age should be lowered to 18 especially if the drinking is done with a meal, as most wine drinking is. People in countries throughout Europe are taught to respect drinking and how to drink in moderation from a young age as something to do with a meal and as a result there are fewer alcohol related problems there.

  12. […] let’s raise a glass in honor of having the ability to do so–providing you’re over 21, of […]

  13. […] “Poll: should the US drinking age be lowered?” (image) Permalink | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “A wine vending machine? Pennsylvania […]

  14. […] rather than the usual discussion of excesses. Related: we’ve discussed kids at wineries and how appropriate is the drinking age of 21 here. […]

  15. By lowering the legal drinking age to 18, we are stripping alcohol of his power over teens. Throughout all history, kids have always wanted what they cant have. Teens are drinking regardless of the legal age. And, by the age being lowered, teens who drink in college wouldn’t have to sneak alcohol, therefore it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Compared to other countries, teens who can legally drink at a low age actually consume less than 21 year olds that just started to drink. Only about 8 countries in the world have a drinking age higher that 21, including the U.S.

    Teens are drinking regardless of the legal age. They cant have it on campus, so they go off campus to drink, putting them, and others, in dangerous situations, and they are more likely to get into accidents that way. But, if they are allowed to drink at 18, they will stay on campus, and stay safe. For example, 22% of all students under 21 compared to 18% over 21 years of age are heavy drinkers. AKA Binge drinkers.
    “Showing people responsible drinking at an early age is a great start.” Says a news reporter.

    Also, its pretty sad when teens are aloud to go and fight for our country, even die for us, but they cant even sit down and have a beer legally. We are considered “Adult” in every other way at 18. “ it is blatantly inconsistent to forbid teens to drink until their 21.” Says Michael Clay Smith. We should either be able to drink at 18, or we shouldn’t be able to smoke, vote, and join the military until we are 21. Its only fair to have it that way.

    Did you know that currently, we are prohibiting 20 year olds to sip champagne at their own weddings? How fair is that! Can you imagine walking down the aisle to your new husband and not even be able to toast your new marriage? I mean, at least allow teens to drink in safe, monitored areas such as bars, taverns, restaurants, and college campus. At least they will stay uninjured, out of danger, and in one piece.

    As I stated before, America is one of the 8 countries in the world with a drinking age higher than 18. Almost 50 percent of traffic deaths in the US are caused by drunk drivers or are alcohol related. In Peru, the legal drinking age is 18. Only 35 percent of traffic deaths are alcohol related. Therefore, 18 year olds are just as responsible at 18, if not, more.

  16. by the way, that was my essay i had to do in 1 week. eigth grade sucks…

    peace out everyone!!


  17. Actually, I think that the drinking age should be lowered to 16 (when drinking with a responsible adult, over 25) and to 18 (when flying solo). Kids should learn to respect the effects of alcohol at an earlier age, while they are still living at home, under their parents’ supervision. This will dramatically decrease the amount of binge-drinking in college, as well as increase the amount of respect individuals will have for cocktail culture once they do reach college. Imagine universities being able to offer wine and whiskey appreciation courses, where students are required to write lengthy discourses on their drinking experiences.

    Think of it as entry-level sommelier training.

    Another positive result of lowering the drinking age is that younger people will be permitted to attend small-venue concerts, thus keeping live, original music more accessible in college towns (which are currently being overrun by 21+ cover-band establishments). My own experience in events promotion has confirmed my suspicion that the only way for live, original music to flourish is for there to be more all-ages venues available for promoters to book.


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