2009 May 30 Saturday
Lower Drinking Age Means More Teen Pregnancies

Lower drinking ages translate into more teen pregnancies.

The team examined birth records and survey data on alcohol use for the years 1978 to 1988, a period when state minimum drinking age laws were in flux. Fertig said the consensus among researchers is that a higher minimum drinking age reduces fatal car crashes and alcohol consumption among young adults, but there is little data on how drinking age laws influence infant health. The researchers found that a drinking age of 18:

  • Increases prenatal alcohol consumption among 18- to 20-year-old women by 21 percent;
  • Increases the number of births to 18- to 20-year-olds by 4.6 percent in white women and 3.9 percent in 18- to 20-year-old African-American women;
  • Increases the likelihood of women under age 21 having a low-birth weight baby by 6 percent (4 percent for white women and 8 percent for African-American women); and
  • Increases the likelihood of premature birth by 5 percent in white women under age 18 and by 7 percent in African-American women under age 18.

Fertig noted that in many cases the impact of a reduced drinking age disproportionately falls on African-Americans. The researchers found that a drinking age of 18 increases the probability of an unplanned pregnancy by 25 percent for African-American women, for example.

A radical libertarian would say that the government should make no laws about use of addictive and mind-altering substances. But I'm more utilitarian. Society has to actually work. Teen girls with marginal self control shouldn't be getting pregnant while on alcohol and also drinking while pregnant and we need to prevent them from doing this for the rest of us. They impose external costs by their behavior.

Teen girls who get pregnant while drunk are probably dumber than those who maintain more control and refrain. Our problems are with the dumber people and policy should be set more to encourage better behavior by the dumber people than for the convenience of those who have the most self control.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 May 30 10:27 AM  Human Nature

Xenophon Hendrix said at May 30, 2009 5:39 PM:

Your reasoning could be used to support prohibition, right?

Randall Parker said at May 30, 2009 6:00 PM:

Xenophon Hendrix, There are trade-offs to all enforcement regimes. Totally banning alcohol would cause corruption and the populace wouldn't approve anyway. But obviously raising the drinking age is pretty easy to do since anyone over 21 sees a higher age limit as making the roads safer and protecting kids.

averros said at May 30, 2009 6:48 PM:

The trade-off is called "I think I know what is better for the other people and I don't give a damn about beating them up to force them to conform to my opinion about what's best for them".

Why exactly teenage pregnancies are bad? The younger parents are, the less chances that offspring has genetic defects, including mental problems (and MUCH lower chances of milder problems such as lower IQ). I would think you'd be the first to promote them since you're so concerned about falling IQ in general population. By pushing their kids to delay procreation until their 30s the white middle class essentially breeds itself out of viable gene pool.

In Europe they start giving kids alcohol (in smaller amounts) pretty early - 12-13 years seems to be the age when most parents start to introduce kids to drinking. By 18 or so kids know how to deal with alcohol pretty well. The common sight of stone-drunk 20+ year-olds is something peculiar to US. BTW, the worst alcoholic I know was a tea-totaler until his 30s.

Similarly, in some European countries they actually teach people how to drive when drunk. This also works to teach people how to recognize and compensate for other impairments (such as being tired, sleepy, or ill - which is no less dangerous than being drunk). In a typical evening half French drivers would be legally drunk by US standards - but somehow there's no carnage on the roads. Oh, and they do live longer on average, with at least part of the gap attributable to regular consumption of red wine.

All moralistic crap made into law always leads to unintended consequences. By "protecting" people from their own minor mistakes the moralistic laws prevent them from learning about responsibility and avoiding these mistakes in the future - and so leaves them totally unprepared for the life full of temptations which can lure unexperienced into making serious (and sometimes fatal) mistakes.

Kudzu Bob said at May 30, 2009 9:39 PM:

Get serious, Randall. If the teen girls in this crummy town aren't allowed to drink Wild Turkey until they lose consciousness in the back of my customized van, how will I ever manage to have sex with them? Do you have any idea how hard Rohypnol is to come by these days?

O'Brien said at May 31, 2009 9:41 PM:

I am totally with averros. However, I think a major problem is stupid people. Smart people learn to control their drives--whether for drugs, alcohol, sex, money, food, or anything else pleasurable. One reason why poor people tend to be fat is that they cannot control their drive for food. Likewise, poor people tend to not be able to handle drugs and alcohol very well.

I don't think society should revolve around stupid peoples' lack of self-control. Somehow there has to be more enforcement against people who cannot handle drugs/alcohol. To some extent, this already exists. Many people who lack self-control are on probation or parole, which requires drug testing. The real problem is the idea that the same standards of conduct should apply to everyone equally.

Randall Parker said at May 31, 2009 11:28 PM:


We obviously need to set policies based on how dummies will respond. We can't just pretend they do not exist. They commit crimes, demand money from the rest of us, and create other problems.

The libertarian fantasy does not work because most people aren't compatible with libertarianism.

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