The National Minimum Age Drinking Act of 1984 required that all states raise their minimum drinking age to 21, or risk a reduction in highway funds under the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Any state failing to comply faced a 10 percent decrease in its annual federal highway appointment, according to Drinkingage.procon.org. By 1988, all 50 states and DC were in compliance.
While the original motive for raising the drinking age was to combat drunk driving fatalities, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found unintended consequences of the legislation that have particularly benefited women over the past 30-plus years.
The study’s lead author Richard Grucza -- an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis -- whose research was published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, found that women who grew up when the legal drinking age was 21 -- not 18 -- had lower incidences of suicide and homicide.
The authors examined data on about 200,000 suicides and 130,000 homicides that took place in the United States between 1990 and 2004, hoping to gauge the longer-term impact of drinking age laws on homicide and suicide.
Grucza’s team found that “women who grew up being able to drink below the age of 21 had a 12 percent higher risk for suicide -- a trend that stretched far into adulthood -- than women who matured when the legal drinking age was set at 21 ... And women who had matured when the legal drinking age was below 21 had a 15 percent higher risk of dying from homicide,” according to a release on the study.
What Grucza notes as a particularly interesting finding is that age of drinking impacted women differently than men.
"As for the different findings concerning men and women, it's hard to say why that happened," Grucza said. "We can start by saying that it's well understood that suicide and homicide are very different phenomena for men and women, independent of drinking habits. And perhaps alcohol tips the dynamic. But at this point it's just speculation based on past literature.