The legal drinking age in the world
The alcohol minimum purchase age differs from country to country across the world. As Howard reports, research was carried out in 2016 by the World Health Organization to study the legal age to buy and consume alcohol in different countries. The results showed that there are different approaches, from the total ban for all citizens regardless of age to the complete absence of age limits. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen have completely prohibited alcohol consumption, whereas Nigeria and several other African countries have no age limit at all (Howard). In Germany, the legal drinking age is that of 16, a year before the minimum driving age with supervision.
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Similarly, the majority of other European states have a minimum of 17-18 years old, which is on average the same as legal driving and marriage age or precedes it by one year. Meanwhile, US citizens can only legally buy alcohol at the age of 21, three years after being legally enabled to join the military or get married. Such a difference suggests the connection between the cultural aspects of a county and laws that regulate alcohol consumption.
Factors of alcohol intake
The number of alcoholic beverages consumed and the frequency of intake are not similar around the world. The research by WHO implies that in economically wealthy countries, more alcohol is consumed and heavy episodic drinking happens more likely (Howard). Thus, more careful measures are to be taken by the government to prevent drunk driving and other negative consequences of alcohol intake. Political, economic, and social factors influence drinking habits, as well as the way that the government handles the issue of legal alcohol purchase.
At the same time, the abovementioned factors originate predominantly from the country’s culture, historical events, and national character. The Americans are known for valuing their individualism, independence, and privacy. Throughout history, these characteristics have determined their approach to different spheres of life, including drinking culture. Besides, the US economy is considered to be the largest in the world; it is highly developed and primarily consumer-based. As a result of an independent character and a prosperous economy, demand for alcohol is rather high in the country.
The historical and cultural aspects of alcohol consumption in the US
The legal drinking age in the US is currently among the highest in the world. The explanation for this can be found in the cultural aspects of the country. As it is known, the US culture was formed by the Founding Fathers, who were Puritans and followed the prohibitive Biblical approach to alcohol drinking. Later on, similar beliefs about the harmful effect of alcohol on the social good resulted in Prohibition in the 1920s, a surprising phenomenon for “one of the hardest drinking countries” at that time (Rorabaugh 2). The driving force of Prohibition was religious organizations, which believed that crime and abuse rates could be decreased by lowering the alcohol intake of the nation.
Even though Prohibition collapsed, it resulted in setting a legal drinking age of 21 for adolescents in nearly all states (Federal Trade Commission [FTC]). However, only after the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was adopted in 1984, the legal age of 21 for purchasing alcohol was determined on the national level (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]). Overall, the complex cultural background of the country should be considered when discussing the minimum legal drinking age.
Increasing the minimum drinking age has proved to be reasonably efficient. Ever since the adoption of the Act in 1984, drinking among high-schoolers has dropped significantly by almost 25%, while binge drinking has decreased by about 13% (FTC). Despite the favorable statistics, the problem of teenage drinking still exists, and reducing teen access to alcohol remains a national priority. However, whether children and teenagers can have alcoholic beverages also largely depends on parents and national upbringing traditions.
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Child-rearing as part of national culture
Another cultural aspect of the United States that might have led to the current legal drinking age is child-rearing traditions. Americans tend to treat their children as independent individuals, and such a tendency can result in children being spoiled in some cases. Increased and uncontrolled freedoms for individuals that are not mature enough may sometimes have harmful consequences. According to Howard, about 28% of adolescents aged from 15 to 19 experience binge episodic drinking. In her article, Howard states that binge or heavy drinking occurs if a person consumes over 60 grams of pure alcohol in the past month. Nevertheless, the reason for uncontrollable drinking might be not only the high independence of teenagers but also the family’s attitude toward alcohol consumption.
For example, some parents believe that it is safer for their children if they are introduced to alcohol at home. Some might even provide beverages for parties, showing their children tolerance to drinks. Alternatively, in some families, alcohol is strictly prohibited, which might cause a damaging effect of the forbidden fruit, making teenagers go heavy on drinks once they reach the legal age. Therefore, a healthy and balanced approach is needed to avoid adverse effects for adolescents in the future.
Car culture and drunk driving in the US
Another cultural aspect to keep in mind when discussing the legal drinking age in the US is the country’s car culture. Americans are largely dependent on motor vehicles, and teenagers are expected to be able to drive at 16 and get a car as soon as possible. The independent nature of US citizens presupposes mobility in reaching different locations. Besides, there is access to rather cheap cars, gas, and insurance, compared to other countries. In other words, adolescents are enabled to drive when they are likely not so mature as adults, emotionally and mentally, and some of them might not responsibly approach such an opportunity.
Consequently, teenagers are more likely to get into alcohol-related automobile crashes. Motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of death for children and adolescents, and lowering the legal drinking age in the last century by some states increased traffic crashes that involved teenagers (FTC). As a result, the countermeasure should have been raising either the drinking or driving age. Considering the need for mobility in the US, a higher legal drinking age seems a reasonable solution.
Overall, the cultural aspects that have likely resulted in the legal alcohol consumption regulation are discussed in this paper. The difference in the determined minimum drinking age in countries can be explained by their cultural, historical, and social backgrounds. In the US, the minimum is that of 21 years old, and it has been set to decrease drinking and lower the number of car accidents in the country. However, the attitude toward alcohol in the family also plays a significant role in forming the child’s future behavior and level of responsibility. The cultural aspects of the US history, the modern car culture, as well as family traditions and opinions on alcoholic beverages are likely the primary reasons for the high legal drinking age in the country.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Minimum legal drinking age of 21 saves lives.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Web.
Federal Trade Commission. “21 is the Legal Drinking Age.” Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. 2018. Web.
Howard, Jacqueline. “The Countries Where Drinking is Banned until 25 — or Allowed at 13.” CNN Health. 2019. Web.
Rorabaugh, William Joseph. Prohibition: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2019.