Why Is America’s Drinking Age so High?

(Last Updated On: February 5, 2020)

Why Is America’s Drinking Age so High?

Did you know the US has one of the highest legal drinking ages in the world? This of course ignores countries that do not allow alcohol period, but it does lead us to the question of why? Why is America’s drinking age so high?

America’s Drinking Age & The World 

Worldwide, America is among only 12 countries with a legal drinking age at 21 (only 6% worldwide). Only 17% of countries worldwide have a drinking age older than 19 anyway. 

So the long short is that America is definitely an outlier when it comes to its drinking age. There’s not much to argue about or against to that statement, and we figured a lot of people generally sensed that anyway. Regardless, we figured it was important to throw some numbers at you to put things into perspective. 

Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws

Along with America’s seemingly abnormal drinking age comes the alcoholic beverage control state. Which legally means these states have a monopoly on alcoholic beverages within their borders. Within that there’s some variance, based on where the monopoly lies. Some only control beer, while others control just wine and stuff like that. 

Of all 50 states, 17 of them have these laws in place. You’re probably not going to be overly surprised by the list.

  1. Alabama
  2. Idaho
  3. Iowa
  4. Maine
  5. Michigan
  6. Mississippi
  7. Montana
  8. New Hampshire
  9. North Carolina
  10. Ohio
  11. Oregon
  12. Pennsylvania
  13. Utah
  14. Vermont
  15. Virginia
  16. West Virginia
  17. Wyoming

Maryland and Minnesota exist in this kind of middle area. Minnesota allows subsections of the state to have alcohol monopolies, while there is no state law for it. Maryland has a few counties with monopolies as well.

The Prohibition Era

What a strange time this was for America, when everyone was super afraid of alcohol. You know, that time America was so afraid of alcohol it amended the Constitution to ban the manufacture and sale of Alcohol within the US. Of course in 1933 that ended with another amendment to the Constitution because the US can’t actually delete amendments. 

Anyway we’re talking about Prohibition Era America and it’s a whole can of worms originating with religious movements that led to an amendment in the 1920s. 

Prohibition is its own can of worms, but suffice to say the wake of the Prohibition still has many lasting effects on America. 

Namely, drinking age. Because the wake of the Prohibition had many states instituted a minimum drinking age of 21 years. Afterwards, by the 1960s, voting ages began dropping down from 21. Logically, minimum drinking ages soon fell as well. 

Ronald Reagan and Drinking Ages

Except some groups in America didn’t really like that, like the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). These movements had picked up in the 1980s, and guess who was president back then? Good old Ronald Reagan–who offered a lot of support for the re-raising of the minimum drinking age. 

So then, how did Reagan go about enforcing these drinking ages? The power of highways. Because you know, a lot of that roadwork infrastructure is federally funded. 

Reagan got the National Minimum Drinking Age Act passed, which found a way to roundabout force states to raise their drinking ages. Really, it only made it so people under 21 couldn’t purchase alcohol. Which is why some states technically allow people under 21 to drink in private and whatnot. 

Of course, people weren’t a big fan of the whole drinking age shebang, so Reagan found a way to persuade the states. 

If they didn’t raise their drinking ages, they would be effectively punished with the withholding of money from their federal highway apportionment.

Basically, if states didn’t raise the minimum-alcohol-purchasing-age, they wouldn’t get money from the government to make highways. Which is like your mom telling you to do the dishes, or else you have to sleep outside in the middle of winter, or something.

Like Prohibition? Probably not, but see how well you know it here.



About Kyler 147 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle. He currently spends most of his time hitting the university grind while drinking black coffee like water.