IZA DP No. 13987: Minimum Legal Drinking Age and the Social Gradient in Binge Drinking
forthcoming in: Journal of Health Economics
Low minimum legal drinking ages (MLDAs), as prevalent in many European countries, are severely understudied. We use rich survey and administrative data to estimate the impact of the Austrian MLDA of 16 on teenage drinking behavior and morbidity. Regression discontinuity estimates show that legal access to alcohol increases the frequency and intensity of drinking, which results in more hospital admissions due to alcohol intoxication. The effects are stronger for boys and teenagers with low socioeconomic background. The policy's impact is not driven by access. Data from an annual large-scale field study shows that about 25 percent of all retailers sell even hard liquor to underage customers. In line with this, perceived access to alcohol is very high and hardly changes at the MLDA. However, teenagers consider binge drinking at weekends to be less harmful after gaining legal access.