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The Personal is Statistical: Why do you drink?

Posted on 13 March 2018 by Luca Tiratelli, Media Relations & Events Intern .
Tags: binge-drinking, drinking, health, British Social Attitudes, Health Survey for England, alcohol

Why do you drink? It’s a personal question, and yet data from the 2015 British Social Attitudes survey suggests that the answer might not be that personal at all. In fact, it seems that quite a large part of the answers can be explained by simply by looking at the broad categories that you fall into as a person.

Some of the factors that seem to impact on people’s drinking habits are, perhaps, to be expected. Men aged 18-24 are 15 times more likely to have ten drinks in a single session than women over 65.

But perhaps what is more surprising is the relative infrequency of young people’s drinking, and the high proportion of them who barely drink at all. This fits in with other data we’ve collected here at NatCen; the most recent Health Survey for England found that the number of 18-24 year olds who had drunk in the last week was just 46%, down from 65% in 1998.

 

Drink _1

 

Being a 23-year-old man, these are definitely patterns I recognize from my own life. In a normal week, I probably drink twice, but it is definitely not unusual for a whole week to go by without touching a drop, and I know a fair few teetotallers. Quite why young people are drinking less often is hard to know, but it seems to fit in with other lifestyle trends that you can observe in my generation; obsessing about healthy food and exercise is surely likely to have a knock-on effect on alcohol intake.

Despite this though, there does seem to be some truth left in the old binge-drinking student stereotype. Personally, I would rarely drink more than 4 in one sitting, and this puts me in a group with 45% of other men my age, but with 29% of us saying we typically get through more than 7 at a time, it looks like that culture is still alive and well.

 

Drink _2

 

However, what I think is most surprising about the BSA data is the extent to which levels of education seem to impact on alcohol habits. My twice-weekly tipples put me in the most popular category for graduates, but if I had no qualifications, this would put me in a minority of just 11%. Indeed, the most common response to being asked how often you drink, for people who left school before sixth form, is never.

 

 

Degree

A-level

GCSE A-C

GCSE D-G

No qualifications

Never

13%

17%

20%

23%

39%

Monthly or less

15%

19%

21%

24%

19%

2-4 times a month

26%

19%

23%

12%

18%

2-3 times a week

29%

32%

26%

27%

11%

4 or more times a week

17%

13%

11%

15%

12%

 

The reasons for this are hard to pin down. Perhaps, seeing as people with less formal education are more likely to marry and have children earlier, they don’t have the same experience of prolonged adolescence that leads to more irresponsible drinking habits being carried on into later life. Perhaps university itself breeds a drinking culture that impacts on your attitude to alcohol for the rest of your life.

More research would be needed to explain these relationships, but what the BSA shows us is that they are real. Drinking really is a “culture” and who you are clearly impacts on which bits of it you partake in.

So, why do I drink? Because it’s what people like me do.

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