With almost no evidence to back up their theory, a group of college presidents, nearly all from private schools, have been pushing to lower the drinking age because they think that would reduce binge drinking on their campuses. It’s called the Amethyst Initiative, and it’s always been shocking to me. Because college presidents should understand the importance of real research evidence when urging a “radical experiment,” as one researcher put it, that has serious public health and safety ramifications for young people. Instead, they offer no evidence at all for their views. Their website contains no research to support lowering the drinking age.
But now, there is evidence about their idea – and it refutes it. A study published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs took the idea of the Amethyst Initiative and applied mathematical modeling to it. The research showed that the only campuses that might benefit from lowering the drinking age would be those with an extremely heavy drinking environment, a lack of enforcement at surrounding bars and – this is important – a radical misunderstanding about normal drinking. In other words, if most students thought that all other students drank a lot more than they really did. Such a misperception would have to be “extremely large,” one researcher said. And, there’s no evidence that it is. There’s no evidence that such a university campus actually exists. So lowering the drinking age would have no effect, the report concluded.
There are plenty of other studies, however, showing that lowering the drinking age is a
really bad idea. Among them:
- A 2009 study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research showed that the minimum 21 legal drinking age saved 732 lives a year in the US since 1982 by reducing fatal accidents
- A 2005 study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that significantly more alcohol-involved crashes occurred among 15-to 19-year-olds after New Zealand lowered its drinking age
- A 2010 study in the Journal of Safety Research concluded that initiatives to lower the drinking age to 18 “ignore the demonstrated public health benefits” of the minimum 21 legal drinking age.
Besides, isn’t it cavalier for presidents of exclusive private colleges to urge lowering the drinking age to supposedly help their students, without considering the health and safety of underage youth who aren’t going to college?