Legal Drinking Age and Alcohol Consumption Around the World

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Legal Drinking Ages


The legal drinking age is the minimum age at which a person can legally consume alcoholic beverages. The minimum age alcohol can be legally consumed can be different from the age when it can be purchased in some countries. And some countries even have different age limits for different types of alcoholic drinks.

Most laws apply only to drinking alcohol in public places with alcohol consumption in the home being mostly unregulated. So it is important to note that our dataset comprises of the minimum drinking ages in public by country, because some countries don't have a minimum private drinking age.

  • First off, we can see that 18 is by far the most common age requirement, nearly uniform across Europe.
  • The US has the strictest requirements throughout the developed world.
  • All countries in which alcohol consumption is completely forbidden are muslim-majority countries.
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Alcohol Consumption by Country


Alcohol consumption in excess is linked to a number of negative outcomes like obesity, road accidents, domestic violence, overweightedness and alcoholism. Let's first get a snapshot of alcohol consumption around the world:

  • There doesn't seem to be any relationship between the minimum legal drinking age and alcohol consumption.
  • Lithuania has the highest rate of alcohol consumption in terms of total litres of pure alcohol.
  • It is clear that Northern Europeans dirnk a lot more than our Mediterranean counterparts - which has often been attributed to less hours of sunlight, and accredited with higher rates of suicide (see Ireland and Lithuania).
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  • The top 10 countries by alcohol consumption are all European, with Lithuanians drinking significantly more than trailing countries.
  • France's high ranking comes as a surprise; while the French are know to love their wine, I wouldn't have expected them to consume so much more in total than us Northern Europeans.
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Types of Alcohol Consumed - USA vs Italy


Now let's look at the different types of alcohol consumed in two select countries - the USA and Italy. The two countries have similar rates of consumption, but what are their inhabitants drinking? For the purpose of this post, alcohol is broken down into 3:

  • Spirits (% of total alcohol consumption)
  • Beer (% of total alcohol consumption)
  • Wine (% of total alcohol consumption)
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Alcohol consumption in the US has clearly changed over time:

  • Up until the early 20th century, spirits were consumed far more than beer or wine.
  • Since 1930, Americans started to drink more wine and beer, with consumption of wine growing at a faster rate.
  • Beer is now the most popular alcohol type in the US, followed by spirits.
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As you can see above, the story for the Italians is quite different.

  • Wine has always been by far the most popular alcoholic beverage.
  • Beer only started to be consumed in Italy at any significant rate around the late 1920s.
  • The share of wine in total alcoholic consumption has slowly declined over the past 100 years, but still remains by far the most popular alcoholic beverage in Italy.
  • The share of beer in total alcoholic consumption continues to increase & will likely do so going into the future due to international influences.