Legal Drinking Ages Around the World

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I love this map I found over at SlashDot, showing the minimum legal drinking ages for countries around the world.  There’s a key on the bottom, but basically, it’s “the darker the ink, the older to drink.”

Taking a quick glance, you can see that the old U.S. of A. is one of the darkest shapes out there with a drinking age of 21, which seems a little geriatric when you look at all the lighter shades on the map.

Our conservative ways are only outdone by a handful of Middle Eastern countries that have outlawed drinking alcohol entirely.  I say let them do as they please, because I don’t ever expect to Priceline a great deal at the Tehran Holiday Inn.

Anyway, according to the rest of the world, it looks we’re a bunch of prudes with our 21-year-old drinking age. Of course most Americans have had a drink (or several keggers) by the time they hit 21, so this is more of a cultural ideal, like speed limits or 12 items on the express checkout lane.  Sure you’re supposed to follow these rules, but most folks fudge a bit.

I think 21 is a little too old, as it allows lazy parents to feel like they can push off educating their kids about responsible drinking.  At least until the day they find Junior passed out on the front lawn with penises drawn all over his face.  Then it’s kind of too late for a constructive conversation, no?

I say move the drinking threshold to a more realistic age – one where kids naturally begin experimenting with alcohol – and teach them about making smart choices when they start hitting puberty.  We should be parents to our kids and not look to the government to legislate their behavior.  Education, not legislation – that has a nice ring to it.

That’s my take – what about you?




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29 Comments on “Legal Drinking Ages Around the World”

  1. November 16, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Agreed, but then we have a great track record in re: legislating morality; i.e., Prohibition, the War on Drugs, bans on sex education, gun control, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    The only thing these efforts are successful at is driving the behavior underground, thereby supporting/subsidizing organized crime, overloading our criminal justice system, and ruining the lives of impressionable youngsters out sowing their wild oats.

    Education and cultural/social pressure (ala the current anti-smoking campaign) are much more effective, less damaging to society and a heck of a lot cheaper.

    • November 16, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      Yeah, I’m a believer in embracing human nature, not trying to create laws that fight it based upon some ideal that very few people (especially the people who create the laws) actually follow.

  2. November 16, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Considering Somalia doesn’t currently have “laws” in any formal sense, it’s tough to see how anything could be “illegal” there. Also, it was legal to drink in Tunisia when I was there in 2002; they actually have a few industrial breweries that produce lagers.

    Anyhow, yes the drinking laws here are ridiculous, since kids will still go to extraordinary lengths to drink anything and everything that is “forbidden.” Education and supervised tasting at an earlier age could help but, judging by the current binge-drinking issues in Europe, people will still be irresponsible with alcohol. I used to think that having a vibrant pub culture in the US would be a great thing, but now I’m not so sure, given the decline of authentic community pubs in the UK.

    I doubt there will be any change to the drinking age in this country, since it plays a role in pacifying the Puritans in our society, despite its practical uselessness. I think it is far more productive to reform the archaic and nonsensical distribution laws in place in many states that unfairly target craft beer.

    • November 16, 2011 at 10:20 am #

      I know back in the 70’s the push came from the fact that 18 year old kids were drinking and driving and getting killed. From what I recall, raising the drinking age was meant to prevent this from happening, and the rate did start to decline. But I doubt it was the law – I think it was the concurrent push for educational programs in schools to teach kids about personal responsibility and consequences.

      • November 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

        Yeah, I remember that too. I’d be interested to see a long-term statistical study of drunk driving rates since the laws went on the books. When I have kids, I’ll be sure to take on the responsibility of educating them about responsible alcohol consumption and appreciation.

  3. November 16, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    It does seem ludicrous that kids can vote and go to war at 18 but can’t legally have a drink. In Missouri, you can serve your own kid within the confines of your home. I plan to teach my kid about good beer when she gets a little older. At three, she already wants to help brew beer.

    • November 16, 2011 at 10:23 am #

      I agree with early indoctrination and education when it comes to “forbidden fruit.” It’s always the repressed kids who flunk out of college after the first year because they are finally free to experiment and wind up screwing the pooch. I think the French have it right here, letting their kids drink wine with dinner (usually cut with water) from an early age. Over there it’s considered embarrassing to get sloppy drunk. Over here it’s considered Saturday night.

  4. November 16, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    Old enough to die for your country, NOT old enough to have a drink to celebrate that fact. Un-Freaking-Believable. If you want to stick with the “kids under 21 are too young to make good decisions,” then they ALSO shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the military, OR work in business. Because seriously, the kid processing my mortgage is good to do that, but can’t have a brew at the end of the day? A kid prepping to fire a rocket launcher at a group of human beings can’t have a beer? Seriously?
    Also, with a few exceptions, the d-bags who were too immature to drink at 18 were the same d-bags passed out at the party with penises drawn on their face last week at 35. Just sayin’…

    • November 16, 2011 at 10:27 am #

      I agree with the unfairness of being able to sacrifice your life for your country but not being able to have a beer. Another and more common issue is credit cards. At 18, you can get a line of credit and saddle yourself with debt that can hang over your head for years. It’s almost predatory the way the banks prey on the young, but it’s legal because the kids are 18 and are considered to be legal adults. If that’s the case with credit, why not with alcohol?

      • ScottG
        November 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

        This wasn’t widely known, but at least in the Army, those under 21 were legally allowed to imbibe on post at an enlisted club or NCO club if they were a hard-stripe corporal before turning 21. This varied, as it was at the discretion of the Post Commander (usually a 1-2 star General) but was pretty common. It was finally phased out in the early 2000s. But I served with guys who told me about being able to go out to drink on post before they turned 21.

        • Wayne
          November 16, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

          Heck, we even had access to 3.2 panther pee during my basic tng. stint at Ft. Lost in the Woods. Then when I went to Okinawa, there was no problem buying a beer. But when I got assigned to Ft. Meade, MD and lived off post, my wife (who was a year older than I) had to buy my beer for me.

  5. Jeff W
    November 16, 2011 at 10:28 am #


    42 states have set their own exceptions to allow underage consumption of alcohol under certain circumstances. Eight states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia have no exceptions in their underage alcohol possession or consumption laws.

    • November 16, 2011 at 10:44 am #

      Exceptions yes, but if they want that highway money, they’re not going to stray too far from Uncle Sam’s edict…

  6. November 16, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    I was born in TX, but raised in Mexico… it was nice to grow up with a legal drinking age of 18 rather than 21… I was able to contrast how kids my age behaved around alcohol and something about drinking being illegal seems to make kids even more irresponsible than the same kids who were legally able to drink… weird…

    • November 16, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      It make the beer taste better because it’s “forbidden” and pushed drinking underground where there’s no supervision or guidance available. If you want a kid to do something, just tell ’em they can’t!

  7. November 16, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    My parents definitely had an open attitude about alcohol, every so often when my brother and I were in Elementary school, they would allow us to split a beer under their supervision. When we became teenagers they allowed us to have a beer or two apiece whenever we wanted one, and while we did have our moments of excess when we were out partying, we definitely knew how to handle it better than most of the kids.

    The Europeans have the best attitude about the whole thing, and I know from experience having lived in France and Germany. The last time we lived there was in 1981 when I was 17, and while it was legal for me to drink anything I wanted, I could only purchase beer or wine. Maybe the laws have changed since then, I don’t know. The point being that they allowed you to “cut your teeth” on beer and wine before making the leap to hard liquor.

    • November 16, 2011 at 11:07 am #

      Yeah, they have the right idea over there. Binge drinking still happens, but young adults are much more aware of how to handle themselves around alcohol, unlike the boozy bozos the nanny state over here is creating.

  8. November 16, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I know it’s a small thing but Greenland is a part of Denmark yet they have different colors on this. Hmmm.

    • November 16, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      Are there people in Greenland?! I thought it was just moose.

  9. November 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Just glancing at the map I draw the immediate correlation between drinking and religion, specifically higher drinking ages and what is probably best termed “religiosity”. Indonesia sticks out like a sore thumb. Why? It has some serious color coding problems when compared to its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Indonesia also has the largest Muslim population in the world. It is followed by Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (for Muslim population) whom are all also very dark on the map. This is not surprising. The majority of the world’s remaining Muslim population is located in the Middle East, which is largely black.

    Alex pointed out that Somalia seems odd given they have no real centralized government. So why is it illegal? Somalia is majority Muslim, and given the absence of central governance, the residents mostly fall back on Sharia Law, which strictly forbids alcoholic consumption.

    The other region that sticks out like a sore thumb is the United States. American branded Christian Evangelism knows no competitor for religious zeal worldwide other than Islam. It is fierce and it screams “I will impose my morality on you! I know best because God told me!” America gave us the Puritans, the Amish, the Pentecostals, the Southern Baptists, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witness, etc. It is the hotbed for Christian zeal globally. Hell, the country was founded by individuals fleeing religious persecution because their ideas were too far out there for the traditional Catholics and Protestants of Western Europe.

    Overbearing governments and “nanny states” are by products of religion. Religion.

    There are two outliers on the map that strike me, though. The first is Japan, as it is not a very religious place at all. But from my experience, the Japanese are the most conservative group of people, ex religion, I have ever met. The other outlier that I find absolutely shocking is Iran. 17 years of age?! Iran?! Ahmadinejad was previously the laughing stock of western media outfits for making the statement that there were no gays in Iran (like anyone could control that) but there must be plenty of wine, whiskey and beer if people can start drinking at 17. Perhaps the USA can learn something from Iran… I’ll cheers to that!

    • November 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      Iran is black on the map. I think you were looking at Iraq.

      • November 16, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

        Touche. Ahmadinejad is the ayatollah of douches. I should probably lay off the breakfast stouts before my vision gets any cloudier.

        • November 16, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

          I do get your point about religion, but I find it notable that several countries with large Muslim populations still allow alcohol, despite an explicit prohibition on alcohol in Islamic doctrine. You can still get a drink in:

          Tunisia (wrong on the map)
          Sudan (if you are not a Muslim)

          Can you imagine the US being as tolerant as those countries if Christianity explicitly forbid the consumption of alcohol?

        • November 16, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

          Well, there would probably be a lot less Christians, maybe no Americans

    • Wayne
      November 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

      Based on genealogical research of my father’s family, I firmly believe that there is a religion gene. I obviously didn’t get it but I’m pretty much the exception.

      My Anglo-American ancestors were among those who pushed for Sunday drinking laws in Chicago and my g-g-granny was a founding member of the WCTU. ‘Preacher’ is probably the most common trade in the family for as far back as I can trace.

      Fortunately for me, I take after my mom’s side–German Lutherans among whom ‘bar-tender’, ‘saloon-keep’ and ‘beer wagon driver’ were the prominent trades.

      • Wayne
        November 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

        Ooops, got side-tracked. Anyway, if all the folks with a religion gene left Europe for America, guess where said gene would be most prominent.

  10. dianne budde
    November 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I had always believed that if we ever went to “War”, the drinking age would be lowered again. If Little Johhny is old enough to carry a gun and kill for us, then he would be rewarded with a drink. Our 21 year old age makes alcohol a taboo and elevates it to have to try status with kids. The fact that it is illegal just makes it more fun. There are probably kids who would’nt even try it, but do because of the pressure/fun factor. The law just makes it seem like they aren’t hip if they don’t do it. Another point is that a local college town (WIU-Macomb Illinois), made them register kegs, it killed beer sales in that area. What did start hopping off the shelves was Everclear and high grain alcohol liquors. So now when your kid takes off for college and goes to their first party they are not going to know what hit them & end up who knows where. At least they are being baby sat in an establishment. Enough of my rant.
    Dianne Budde

  11. November 17, 2011 at 1:30 am #

    I’m not so sure. My experience living in Australia for a year showed me that the lower drinking age only meant that kids started to drink even younger. Most of my American friends had their first drink at 16 or 17, whereas most of my Aussie friends started at 13 or 14. Maybe there is no magic number.

    • November 17, 2011 at 10:11 am #

      I recall that Australia was where an auto racing series put a limit of 24 cans of beer a day (!) for people attending a race, so folks snuck in a few days before the race and buried cases of beer so they could get their fill. I guess I’m saying they probably shouldn’t be held up as an example of what reasonable people will do when properly educated about alcohol.

      But I do admire their can-do spirit!

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