It seems rather odd to me that an 18 year old in the US is allowed to enter the military, be drafted, smoke cigarettes, take on loads of college debt, and buy a house (despite the unlikelihood of that), yet the legal drinking age is set at 21, even though human brain development ends at around 25. What are the reasons for this difference?

  • 18
    @convert how is it not? It’s a question on legality and policy.
    – Luke Hill
    Mar 26, 2022 at 22:29
  • 20
    @convert laws are a part of government.
    – Luke Hill
    Mar 26, 2022 at 22:32
  • 3
    Added US tag. These discrepancies are common worldwide. The UK allows enlistment at 16 compared to alcohol and voting at 18 for example
    – Jontia
    Mar 26, 2022 at 22:45
  • 2
    Related and you might be interested Why is the drinking age usually higher than the age of consent & driving age?
    – Allure
    Mar 27, 2022 at 0:00
  • 2
    @convert Politics is about electing representatives based on how well (the public perceives) they do their jobs; the primary job of those representatives is to make laws. Therefore, politics is directly related to laws. I can’t see why there should be any confusion here. Mar 27, 2022 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


The age of majority — in most US states, and for most activities that were considered 'adult' — was set at 21 up until the 1970s. I'm not sure there was a specific reason for that aside from convenience and folk wisdom. It was lowered to 18 largely because of the heavy use of conscription during the Vietnam war; there was public dissatisfaction about sending young men to fight in wars when they could not vote for the people sending them there. The drinking age was raised to 21 once again in the 1980s, ostensibly because of a large increase in drunk-driving accidents traceable to young adults.

There's a lot of other politics mixed in with this: religious concerns about immorality and predatory sexual behavior, conservative worries about the rise of 'psychedelic' drugs in the anti-war movement, lobbying by insurance companies trying to increase their profit margins... But these are the basics.

  • 6
    But there are school shootings and American youths can still buy a gun at 18 though, hence the meme. So why aren't legal gun-owning age being 21 as well?
    – Faito Dayo
    Mar 27, 2022 at 2:00
  • 15
    @FaitoDayo: Gun issues are crazed in the US, for reasons that are too Freudian to get into. I will say that (1) most school shooters are under 18 and get their weapons illicitly (often from their parent's gun cabinets), and (2) the standard response gun advocates give to school shootings is that schools should arm their teachers (because, you know, that's what teachers yearn for). IT's a sad fact of life that crazy, obsessed people are extremely useful to political parties — they've got their vote on a hair trigger — so politicians like to keep them happy. Mar 27, 2022 at 2:16
  • 1
    @FaitoDayo What meme? Mar 27, 2022 at 18:23
  • 1
    @MichaelHarvey: is this where I"m supposed to say 'copycats!'? 😛 The question is in the US context, though I'd be interested to know what the rational across the pond was... Mar 27, 2022 at 20:15
  • 3
    @AaaLol_dude The law was created in 1938 after 107 people died, mostly children, after someone sold a mixture of antifreeze and antibiotics to pharmacies. The law basically says you can't put something unsafe for consumption inside something meant for consumption (except for useful things like popsicle sticks). It has nothing to do with it being a choking hazard and the law existed long before Kinder existed. Kinder found a way around the law a few years ago.
    – rtaft
    Mar 28, 2022 at 12:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .