U.S. Age Limits Represent an Outdated Culture

Addison Scufsa

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Despite requiring people to be 21 years old to purchase alcohol, the United States has almost the exact same DUI incident rate for people under 24 as Germany, where the drinking age is 16 for beer and wine and 18 for spirits. Underage drinking at fraternities and college parties is extremely prevalent today. According to a study done by the University of Michigan, over 40% percent of tenth graders consume alcohol. The drinking age law in the United States is just one of several laws that does not seem to match up with the facts.

Alcohol has always been a controversial issue in the United States. When looking at the amount of underage consumption today and the growth of a dangerous binge drinking culture, it is logical to reduce the age limit to 18. According to data from the USDA, CDC, and other health organizations, over 80% percent of college students consume at least one alcoholic beverage per year. This includes a large number of underage freshman and sophomores.

Some may even argue reducing the limit to 16 for beer and wine, but there is scientific evidence that drinking before at least 18 is dangerous to brain development. Despite the relative success of Germany in building a safer drinking culture amongst younger children, alcohol related deaths are higher than in the United States in part due to the age limit being so low. Deutsche Welle, a German news company, found that the rise of “alcopops” in Germany has contributed to overconsumption of alcohol in high school. Seeing these risks associated with the drinking age being 16, 18 years old seems to be the happy middle ground.

Most of Europe and some Canadian provinces require people to be 18 to purchase alcohol. Most countries with this age limit have lower levels of drunk driving, safer environments for consuming alcohol, and would permit certain states who consider that to be too young to maintain the 21 minimum age laws. Giving the states and their citizens more rights while improving the overall welfare of society is a no-brainer. 

Alcohol is not the only controversial age limit law in the US. Driving at 16 years old is proven to be more dangerous than at later ages. Teenagers are less likely to use seatbelts, more likely to be in an accident, and are more likely to die from motor vehicles than they are to commit suicide or die from disease according to the CDC and IIHS. Graduated license programs in most states have reduced the number of teen driving deaths and more awareness of the risks have also reduced these numbers. However, raising the age to 18 with a permit at 17 will further combat the abnormally high rate of fatal accidents among teens while also possibly helping lower enormous insurance costs for teens and their families when starting to drive. 

One of the worst minimum age laws is the age at which people can join the military. The fact that 18 year olds can join the military and die for our country, but they can’t drink alcohol, is laughable. The age to join the military should be raised to 20 years old. This provides a gap for high school students to think about whether or not a career in the military is really what they want to pursue, or if a different career path is a better option. Following two years of college or working, the recruits joining the military will be better prepared and more effective as well. Life experience is an invaluable asset in the military. How are soldiers straight out of high school well prepared to fight in foreign countries under immense stress and pressure?

The military age is often brought up in conjunction with age laws to purchase a rifle or shotgun, which is nonexistent in most states. Federal law prohibits handgun ownership under 18 years of age, which is a good step towards combating gun violence, especially in schools. Something must be done to end this violence in schools, and a minimum age limit is a good way to help end school shootings. No high schooler should be able to purchase a firearm, regardless of the situation. The combination of bullying in high school and the stress of getting a job or getting into college makes these students unfit to own weapons themselves. If their parents take children hunting or shooting and teach them how to do so responsibly with the parents’ firearms, that is encouraged. 

Life experience and education is not just important for joining the military. Citizens must be informed voters in order to make democracy work well. Students still in high school at 18 have not yet had such experience and education to make that decision in an informed way. Young Americans are also the most apathetic voting group in the US, often choosing to forgo voting at all in the first place. Raising the age to vote to 20 allows young people to become more informed and educated with job or college experience that will allow our republic to function properly. 

Many of these issues such as school shootings, alcohol abuse and DUIs, dangerous driving, and uninformed voting can be solved by better education. Unfortunately, college tuition costs have skyrocketed in recent years, making good education a dream for many Americans. The lack of Americans going into trades like plumbing or welding is also becoming an issue, especially with the decline of the middle class. The government should offer four free semesters of community college or trade school to incentivize a more educated electorate, labor pool, and a wealthier middle and lower class. The costs of providing this education could be offset almost entirely by ending government student loans and other college related expenses, instead focusing on free education for the masses. 

So what exactly have I proposed in these last few paragraphs? Essentially, the United States needs to fundamentally rework the age at when a child becomes and adult in order to better prepare them to be informed, good citizens. Substances like alcohol and smoking need to be legal at 18 to eliminate unsafe binge drinking and smoking that are already prevalent in colleges across the country. The age to become a legal adult should become 20, in conjunction with the ability to purchase a firearm, join the military, the end of free education, and the ability to vote. This provides the ability to gain valuable, affordable education or work experience in between high school and your adult life. While it seems drastic, American culture needs to be shaken up in order to adapt our country to a rapidly changing world.