Eighteen-year-old Americans can join the military, vote, marry, and buy guns, but they do not have the right to buy a beer. Since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed in 1984, contempt for the law and reverence for alcohol has been brooding among young Americans. The act, which was intended to decrease the number of deaths of young drunk drivers, has succeeded in conjunction with tougher seat belt and DUI laws. However, as an unforeseen consequence of the act, alcohol has come to be treated like a forbidden fruit and binge drinking has become a widely accepted rite of passage among college students.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), in the 1960s, many state legislatures and Congress were pressured to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 because most of the drafted soldiers who were sent to Vietnam could not vote for the politicians who were putting their lives at risk. Between 1970 and 1975, after the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age, 29 states adopted policies that lowered the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA). As studies were conducted that correlated the MLDA and driving fatalities, many of the aforementioned states raised their MLDAs to 19, 20, or 21. Eventually, influenced by MADD, Senator Frank Lautenberg drafted the bill that required all states to adopt a 21 MLDA or risk losing ten percent of their allotted federal highway construction funds.
The modern educational system that still embodies prohibitionist ideology has a devastating effect on the health of American college students. However, studies also show these lower drinking ages are correlated with a higher rate of unintended pregnancy and therefore worse infant health. A system that perpetuated a “forbidden fruit” aura around alcohol was still in place when the drinking age was 18 and therefore a lack of education surrounding alcohol still pervaded the youth. In order for the United States to depart from the group of four (11 percent) developed countries (USA, South Korea (19), Iceland (20), Japan (20)) that still have a drinking age over 18, an educational system that does not maintain an exclusive atmosphere around alcohol would have to be established as well. As seemingly evident in the 21st century, where we still have education that creates this atmosphere around alcohol, a system like that is not likely in the near future.