Why is the legal minimum drinking age 21 in the U.S?
The minimum drinking age in the U.S. is 21 mainly because of Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, and the importance of cross-state roads.
In 1975, the legal drinking age varied from the ages 18-21 across states. In Florida, you could drink at 18, while in Illinois, you could drink at 21.
This is because in the U.S, the minimum drinking age is a state decision, not a federal one, and that's why it took so long to get to the minimum drinking age of 21 which is consistent across all states today.
So how did America do it?
In 1920, the 18th Amendment outlawed the production and sale of alcohol in the U.S. However, in 1933, it was repealed by the 21st Amendment, and alcohol was sold again. Around this time, states settled around a minimum drinking age of 21. But in 1969, the 26th Amendment made it possible for 18 year-olds to drink. As this Amendment was enacted during the Vietnam War, states rationalized that if 18 year-olds could be drafted and vote, they should be able to drink.
But in 1982 when Ronald Regan become president, the climate around drinking age reform started to bubble again.
"Nearly 50,000 people were killed on our highways last year... Drunk drivers were involved in 25,000 of those fatalities," denounced Ronald Regan.
The issue was that drunk drivers killed too many people. Most agreed that the solution was to increase the minimum drinking age to 21.
While states got to decide the minimum drinking age, the federal government helped. Not only did President Regan's administration work with organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID), but they also used Michael Jackson to advocate for higher minimum drinking ages through many advertisements and speeches.
Nonetheless, many states didn't budge.
That is until the federal government utilized the 1956 Interstate Highway Act to pressure states to increase the minimum drinking age. In 1984, Reagan announced that the federal government would withhold 5% of a state's highway funds if they did not raise the minimum drinking age to 21. This worked because the Highway Act, which created and maintained a network of cross-state roads, was funded mostly by federal money which was central to a state's economy.
Many states eventually gave up trying to keep the lower drinking age - the federal funding was too much of a necessity.
So for the young teenagers living in America who want to get a cold beer on a Friday night but can't, thank Ronald Regan, the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, and Michael Jackson for increasing the minimum drinking age to 21.