Higher Beer Prices Would Reduce Campus Violence

Summary of working paper 7129
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A 10 percent beer price boost would cut the number of students engaged in violence each year by around 200,000.

If beer cost 10 percent more, the number of college and university students involved in various kinds of violence would shrink by 4 percent, according to a study by NBER Research Associates Michael Grossman and Sara Markowitz. Since about one-third of the higher education student population of 14.5 million (in 1999) will be involved in some kind of campus violence, the Grossman-Markowitz estimates imply that a 10 percent beer price boost would cut the number of students engaged in violence each year by around 200,000.

In Alcohol Regulation and Violence on College Campuses (NBER Working Paper No. 7129), Grossman and Markowitz note that as the consumption of alcohol increases on campus, so does violence. Since higher prices of alcohol discourage drinking, higher prices also reduce violence.

In this paper, the authors look at four types of violence: getting in trouble with the police, residence hall, or other college authorities; damaging property or pulling a fire alarm; getting into an argument or a fight; and taking advantage of another person sexually or having been taken advantage of sexually. They use data from 1989, 1990, and 1991 on 122,416 students from 191 colleges and universities in 29 states. As a measure of the price of alcohol, they use the average price of a six-pack of Budweiser or Miller Light in those states.

Different tax levels, primarily, result in variations in the price of those beverages among states, ranging from a minimum of $3.25 to a maximum of $5.53 a six-pack in 1992. By comparing price levels and violence levels, Grossman and Markowitz can estimate the impact of beer price on levels of the various types of violence and on total violence on campus.

They find that a 10 percent price increase for beer would reduce the proportion of students who got into trouble with the police and college authorities from 12.3 percent to 11.7 percent. In the case of property damage, the 7.5 percent of students involved would shrink to 7.1 percent of all students. The percent of students who get into fights, either verbal or physical, would fall from 31.2 to 30.2 percent of all students. The students involved in sexual misconduct would fall from14.3 percent to 13.8 percent. Of course, a bigger price hike for beer -- say 20 or 30 percent -- would have a proportionately stronger impact on violence.

The data that Grossman and Markowitz had available show that students living in a fraternity or sorority have approximately six more drinks per week than students who live off-campus, and about five more drinks per week than students who reside in a dormitory. If a student's mother has alcohol/drug problems, the student is likely to have one extra drink per week. In the case of a father with these alcohol or other drug problems, it makes a half drink per week difference.

-- David R. Francis