With a minimum age of 20 to buy any alcoholic beverages, Iceland has one of the highest drinking ages in Europe. Our fairly miffed 19-year-old intern asked historian Stefán Pálsson why this age is so high.
“The drinking age in Iceland has, historically, been largely linked to the voting age. When prohibition—except for beer—ended in 1935, the drinking age was set at 21, in line with the new voting age, which had been reduced from 25 to 21 the previous year. In 1968, the voting age was lowered to 20, and the drinking age with it. However, when the voting age was reduced to 18 in 1984, the drinking age remained at 20. This was largely because Iceland had a significant teenage drinking problem in the 1980s, and it seemed unwise to make it easier for teenagers to drink. It was also noted at the time that several other Nordic countries had a drinking age of 20.
“There are also cultural factors at play. In Iceland today, it’s generally accepted that teenagers will drink at 18, especially in a domestic setting. The comparatively high drinking age is therefore aimed less at stopping 18 year olds drinking, than at stopping them providing 16 year olds with booze, since drinking at younger than 18 is much more frowned upon.”
So what now?
A poll in 2013 revealed that 56% of Icelanders opposed reducing the drinking age. While some continue to question the law, pointing out that people in Iceland could be legally married at 18 but not have a drink of champagne at their reception, it doesn’t look like the law will be changing any time soon. So don’t try to drink in Iceland if you’re under 20. If nothing else, your wallet will thank you.
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