Drinkikng, Death, Discontinuity

January 29, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

Last summer, some college presidents suggested that legislatures reconsider the drinking age. They didn’t come right out and say, “Let’s lower it to 18,” but that’s the way their statement was interpreted, and they did point out some of the problems that arise when it’s illegal for college student to drink.

But lowering the age may also have some negative effects. Like death.

In an article in the premier issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Christopher Carpenter and Carlos Dopkin present data on alcohol, age, and death. The article is “The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Mortality: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from the Minimum Drinking Age.” Their graph shows the discontinuities.
Laws make a difference. There’s a big jump in drinking once kids hit the legal age (the red line in the graph). And drinking makes a difference. The there’s also a jump in death at age 21, and most of those deaths are from automobile accidents, suicide, and other causes likely involving alcohol.

By the way, for those of us who can’t quite give up the quaint and antiquated notion that economics is about money, the journal also has the following articles:
  • “Many Children Left Behind? Textbooks and Test Scores in Kenya”
  • “Sticking with Your Vote: Cognitive Dissonance and Political Attitudes”
  • “Separated at Girth: US Twin Estimates of the Effects of Birth Weight”
That still leaves a majority of the articles (six of ten) that involve what we used to call economic factors.

Hat tip to Harold Pollack at The American Prospect.

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