Women now consume as much alcohol as men, global study finds. Researchers believe the change is due to alcohol products being cheaper, being specifically created for and marketed directly at women.
Women have caught up with men in the amount of alcohol they consume and are doing increasing amounts of damage to their health as a result, according to a global study that looked at the consumption habits of four million people over a period of over a century.
Big Alcohol targets girls and women
The change is the consequence of targeted and aggressive efforts by the alcohol industry to recruit more girls and young women as consumers, for example through marketing campaigns and the creation of sweeter products. Other tactics, taken from the Big Tobacco playbook, are to cut prices.
The researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australia, say the conclusion is that public health efforts need to focus more on women.
These results have implications for the framing and targeting of alcohol use prevention and intervention programmes. Alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon.
The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms,” they say.
Their study, entitled “Birth cohort trends in the global epidemiology of alcohol use and alcohol-related harms in men and women: systematic review and metaregression” and published in the journal BMJ Open, looks at the convergence of alcohol consumption habits between men and women over time, from 1891 to 2014. It pools the results of 68 international studies, published since 1980, to look at the changing ratio of male to female alcohol use over the years.
Historically, far more men used alcohol than women. Men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice as likely as their female peers to use alcohol and more than three times as likely to be involved in problematic use or use leading to harms. But in all three respects, this had almost reached parity among those born between 1991 and 2000.
Women’s alcohol use increasing
A number of reasons explain the increase in women’s alcohol use:
- Those who have succeeded in obtaining jobs that were once the preserve of men have joined – or found it necessary to become part of – the after-work drinking culture. Office for National Statistics figures from 2011 show that women in management and professional jobs consume more alcohol than the average woman and use more alcohol on weekdays.
- Drops in the price, which have led to wine and beer becoming regular items in the supermarket shopping trolley and part of everyday life at home, have also been a factor.
- Deliberate, concerted and aggressive efforts by Big Alcohol to target girls and women through marketing is another factor.
Nationally between 2003 to 2012, there has been a 92% increase for alcoholic liver disease – up to nearly 50,000 admissions in England.
We are now seeing people with end-stage liver disease due to alcohol [consumption] in their 20s and 30s – something previously never seen,” says Steven Masson, a consultant hepatologist at Newcastle upon Tyne’s Freeman hospital, according to The Guardian.
The scientific findings confirm the closing male–female gap in indicators of alcohol use and related harms. The closing male–female gap is most evident among young adults, highlighting the importance of prospectively tracking young male and female cohorts as they age into their 30s, 40s and beyond.