The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Winter
2011

Driven to Drink


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


As the nation’s marriage rate continues to tumble and divorce and female-employment rates remain high, the future will look bright for American distilleries. Two studies of alcohol use among young adults would indeed fit quite well into the prospectuses distilleries use to invite investment in their enterprise.

To be sure, one of the studies—a national inquiry into alcohol use conducted by sociologist Joseph D. Wolfe of Indiana University—would seem to be bad news for distillers, since it identifies especially young parents as a group particularly prone to binge drinking, and this is a group that has actually shrunk in recent years as young Americans have increasingly postponed both wedlock and parenthood. However, distillers reading Wolfe’s study will quickly take heart. For what they might lose financially as the number of especially young parents dwindles, they will more than make up in the growth of other groups: namely, the group of divorced and separated adults and the group of young women who have grown up in a single-parent home.

Wolfe reports that compared to peers in intact marriages, separated and divorced men and women are significantly more likely to binge drink (p<0.001 for separated men and women and for separated men; p<.01 for divorced men). Wolfe further reports that, “at age 17, those [young women] who began alcohol use early and did not live with both biological parents tend to binge drink more often” than did peers who did live with both biological parents at that age. At a time when the divorce courts are doing a brisk trade and a growing number of women are bearing children out of wedlock, these are findings that will surely translate into healthy profits for distilleries.

Those profits look even more secure when assessed against the findings of the second study, this one a study of alcohol consumption among late adolescents and young adults. Conducted by sociologists at Kent State University and the University of Akron, this national study found that “traditional gender-role attitudes reduce the frequency of drinking for both men and women.” However, given that the researchers limn a general “liberalization of role attitudes among young people coming of age in the past couple of decades,” distillers now have little to fear from the sobering effects of traditional gender-role attitudes.

Similarly, when the Kent State and Akron scholars report that “marriage, parenthood, and transitions to parenthood are related to less frequent drinking” for women, distillers can take comfort in the nation’s falling marriage rate and in the rising number of deliberately childless women. Given the unprecedented levels of female employment, it can only warm the cockles of distillers’ hearts to learn that “regardless of gender, employment increases drinking frequency” (though this effect is more pronounced among men than among women).

At a time of widespread economic uncertainty, investors can rejoice that trends in family life have made distillery stocks a sure bet.

(Joseph D. Wolfe, “Age at First Birth and Alcohol Use,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 50 [December 2009]: 395–409; C. André Christie-Mizell and Robert L Peralta, “The Gender Gap in Alcohol Consumption during Late Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Gendered Attitudes and Adult Roles,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 50 [December 2009]: 410–26.)

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