Lower Drinking Age May Lead to Increased High School Dropout Rate: Study

College drinking- alcohol 9-29-15

Lowering the minimum drinking age from 21 to 18 could increase the high school dropout rate, a new study suggests. The presence of legal-aged peers in a high school setting increases access to alcohol for younger students, researchers report in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The researchers examined dropout rates in the years before the minimum drinking age was raised to 21 by the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. They found 17-year-olds were affected by their 18-year-old peers, Time reports.

“We saw a 3 percent increase in dropout rates in the whole sample,” lead author Andrew Plunk said. “In already at-risk groups [of dropping out of high school] like blacks and Hispanics, we saw a 4 percent increase.” In young people whose parents had drinking problems, the dropout rate increased by 40 percent.

With 3.3 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, a 3 percent increase in the dropout rate would translate into 99,000 additional dropouts, the article notes.

“The minimum legal drinking age changes how easy it is for a young person to get alcohol,” Plunk said in a news release. “In places where it was lowered to 18, it’s likely that more high school students were able to get alcohol from their friends.” For certain vulnerable students, access to alcohol might reduce their chance of graduating from high school, he said.

There have been calls for lowering the drinking age again, as a way to reduce binge drinking on college campuses. Advocates for reducing the drinking age say college students who can legally purchase alcohol will drink more responsibly.

Plunk says this argument misses the effect lowering the drinking age would have on high school students. “I think this study gives us some idea of what could happen if we lower the legal drinking age,” he said. “It suggests to me that we’d see this same dropout phenomenon again.”

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    Dave Monaghan

    August 2, 2016 at 4:31 PM

    I know it sounds counter intuitive, but if the drinking age was 21 or a high school diploma, it would be an incentive for high school age people to stay in school. Without that high school diploma, there are few options for expanded education and careers for people. Let’s face it, you’ll likely live in poverty as a high school dropout or just a high school diploma, but doors open for people with an Associates Degree and above. You never see that “door” unless you finish high school. I’d allow beer for high school graduates and wine/liquor for 21 and above. It’s kind of a throw back to 3.2 beer, but tied to doing something that society wants from its youth as opposed to something you get just because you had a birthday. The process would be simple: Take your diploma to the BMV and they turn your license to “landscape” instead of “portrait”. The students would gladly pay $10 for a new license. No option to finish earlier taking the GED test in your junior year–4 years of high school with a diploma. Thoughts anyone??

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    Katherine Van wormer

    October 1, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    This is why the drinking age should be 16 and not 18 if there is to be any drinking age at all so students can learn to drink while young and how to drink moderately. To have a strict age limit at 18 will lead to some drinking in high school and supplying drinks to others and drunken birthday parties. We need to change the culture so drinking is not a rite of passage and binge drinking the custom.
    Katherine van Wormer
    co-author of Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective

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