Gender gaps persist in many areas, as Jennifer Lawrence and others have pointed out. But, one area where the gender gap in shrinking in America is drinking habits. Men still drink more alcohol than women, but the gap has narrowed as men drink less and women drink more, according to a recent analysis by researchers with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
There have long been differences in drinking habits between men and women worldwide, both in taste preferences and quantity. While their tastes might not have merged, the NIAAA study shows that that longstanding differences by sex in alcohol consumption is narrowing in the U.S. The fear is that gaps in alcohol-related problems and health issues by sexes are also diminishing.
The researchers found “differences in measures such as current drinking, number of drinking days per month, reaching criteria for an alcohol use disorder, and driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year, all narrowed for females and males,” according to Aaron White, Ph.D., senior scientific advisor to the NIAAA’s director. “Males still consume more alcohol, but the differences between men and women are diminishing,” he noted.
The research team examined data from yearly national surveys conducted between 2002 and 2012. As reported in the NIH journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, they found that the percentage of people who consumed alcohol in the prior 30 days increased from 44.9 percent to 48.3 percent for females over the decade examined, but went down from 57.4 percent to 56.1 percent for men during the same period.
Additionally, the data showed that gender gap in how often they took a drink is also shrinking between men and women. However, men still imbibe more often. The days when alcohol was consumed in the past month also increased on average for women, from 6.8 days during 2002 to 7.3 days during 2012, whereas consumption the past 30 days decreased slightly for men, from 9.9 to 9.5 days over the same time period.
While college students are known for binge drinking, the researchers did not see an overall change during the decade studied. Binge drinking by 18 to 25 year olds in college did not change during the decade under study. However, for their non-collegiate 18- to 25-year-old peers, they noticed a significant jump in binging behavior among females and a corresponding drop among males, which undoubtedly helped narrow the binge-drinking gender gap for adults in that age demographic.
The research team found only one measure, for any age group, where they found the male-female alcohol consumption difference grew over the 10-year study period. That measure involved a combination of alcohol and cannabis consumption. “The prevalence of combining alcohol with marijuana during the last drinking occasion among 18 to 25 year old male drinkers increased from 15 percent to 19 percent,” White noted, but the stats for use of marijuana when last drinking for females from 18 to 25 years old remained around 10 percent.
The researchers did not find any clear social or economic factors (such as unemployment, marital status, regional area, etc.) for shrinking gender gap in alcohol drinking patterns. White and his team suggest that additional studies are needed to look at what is contributing to the consumption changes and also, over time, what the health impacts are, since increased alcohol consumption is known to affect heart health and create other physiological problems.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
NIH: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research: Converging Patterns of Alcohol Use and Related Outcomes Among Females and Males in the United States, 2002 to 2012.
NBC News: Male, Female Drinking Habits Becoming More Similar: Study
Medical Daily: Alcohol Consumption In The US: Women Are Drinking More Than A Decade Ago, While Men Increasingly Forgo It
The Daily Caller: Equality: Women Are Closing The Gender Drinking Gap
Photo courtesy of Samat K. Jain’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license