Skip to main content

Underage Drinkers and the Fake ID

New research investigates how underage college students obtain false identification to gain access to alcohol.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

All this for cheap beer?

The proliferation of fake IDs among college students isn't a recent occurrence, and it's hardly a phenomenon. Obtaining a "fake" can be as simple as borrowing an ID from the guy next door with the same shaggy hair or as high-tech as scrounging around for an individually tailored, hologram version from the dropout who now sells the cards for $50-$75 apiece.

A 2002 Harvard University study found that nearly 18 percent of underage college students own and use false identification (that doesn't include the presumed multitude still trying to get their hands on some). While critics see this number as another reason for alarm, others see it as evidence of a broken drinking-age requirement system.

Two studies led by Julia A. Martinez of the University of Missouri examine how students obtain fake IDs, and if students who use them are more likely to binge drink (the short answer: yes, but with some caveats).

Martinez's latest study surveyed 1,098 undergraduates at "one large Midwestern university" (presumably the University of Missouri) and found that 20 percent of underage college students used or owned fake IDs. These numbers line up nicely with previous, nationally representative Harvard research and thus provide an interesting case study for examining the habits of these students.

Among the current sample of college students, both male and females used fake IDs at an equal clip, but underage males seem to have the hardest time obtaining a fake.

The researchers suggest that males are less likely than females to be given a fake and thus have to embark on buying one (an often dubious proposition). Females, on the other hand, were more likely to be given IDs — sometimes from Greek organizations — and appear to be more adept at finessing their way past bouncers at bars or clubs.

Nearly 30 percent of those who had fake IDs were caught using them — and most of those were males. The shoddy McLovin-style IDs just don't seem to be cutting it.

Now to that pesky binge-drinking correlation.

A 2007 longitudinal study conducted by Martinez examined fake ID use among 3,720 undergraduates from the summer before entering college until the end of their sophomore year. Fake ID ownership among this sample jumped from 12.5 percent prior to college entry to 32 percent near the end of the students' second year.

In the 2007 study and follow-up research, underage ID owners were more likely to be binge drinkers than those who hadn't managed to get their hands on a fake. In the latest study, 43 percent of students who used an ID self-reported frequent heavy drinking during the past month. (Binge drinking is classified as five drinks for a male or four drinks for a female during a two-hour period — which, by college standards, isn't uncommon)

"Those who used their fake ID to enter bars were more likely than others to report drinking heavily in the previous month, whereas this was not the case with those who used their fake ID to buy retail alcohol," Martinez told She speculated that those who bought booze at the store with a fake ID may be sharing it with other students and therefore drink less. (Hey, it's one theory).

The study also notes that prior research seems to confirm the finding that college students who own a fake are more likely to be binge drinkers. It's news that surprises few — and appears to be the norm on plenty of campuses.

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Add our news to your site.