The Arizona Desert Lamp

Social lubrication meets Social Security

Posted in Politics, Random by Connor Mendenhall on 25 September 2008

The Lamp has touched on rethinking the drinking age before, but this week the folks at Freakonomics brought another unintended consequence of decriminalizing drink into the debate (besides simplifying the Friday afternoons of untold 18-year-olds). According to research by a pair of Duke economists, the more students drink, the more they’ll ultimately contribute to the coffers that keep Social Security afloat:

A 2004 study by Frank Sloan and Jan Ostermann at Duke University found that heavy drinkers contribute slightly more to Social Security, through their higher average lifetime earnings, than nondrinkers do. What’s more, since alcohol abusers tend to die sooner than moderate or nondrinkers, they draw less money, over time, from the Social Security trust fund.

Their conclusion: the elimination of heavy drinking (three or more drinks a day) from each successive group of American 25-year-olds would cost the Social Security trust fund $3 billion over the cohort’s lifetime.

Of course, a lower drinking age would likely prevent heavy use and encourage moderate tippling, significantly mitigating any beneficial effect. But then again, as long as Social Security is expected to face a best-case deficit of $4.3 trillion dollars over the average college student’s lifetime, they might as well learn to drink heavily now — they’ll need the experience when the largest government program in the world goes bankrupt.


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