Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

AU Scholars | The Drinking Age

Spring 2015

Course Description

Federal and state laws dictate that—with few exceptions—Americans may only purchase and consume alcohol after they have reached their twenty-first birthday. The costs and benefits of implementing a national drinking age are a contentious topic even 30 years after President Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act into law in 1984. Data shows the higher drinking age has decreased automobile accident rates, but that it has also been responsible for increasing alcohol consumption rates among underage drinkers.

Support for the 1984 law remains strong. A recent poll shows nearly three out of four Americans oppose lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 years of age. That same poll notes that the U.S. “minimum age of 21 is higher than in nearly every other country.” The minimum drinking age in Belgium is 18, for example, while Germans may drink beer in public legally by age 14.

Students in this course will study the legislative, legal, and policy-related history of the U.S. national minimum drinking age; conduct research on its impact since 1984; study related state laws; and explore exceptions inherent to those laws (including for persons in Wisconsin, where the law allows a person of any age to consume alcohol in a bar provided that the person’s parents are also present).

Research Question

What is the age at which the law should permit Americans to buy and consume alcohol beverages?

Specific Research Skills Students Will Develop

Students in this course will learn to:

  • Conduct legal research (from an expert and widely published legal scholar);
  • Synthesize comparative research involving federal, state, and local laws in the United States and abroad;
  • Study and weigh the intended and unintended consequences of laws and regulations; and
  • Deliberate over a unique set of laws that, because of their age group, apply only to them and their peers.