American women drinking more, living less

Illustration for article titled American women drinking more, living less
Photo: Minerva Studio (iStock)

Though writing about alcohol comprises a significant chunk of my career, I try not to shy away from acknowledging its ill effects. Like cheeseburgers, sun exposure, and anything else remotely fun, alcohol is to be enjoyed in moderation, lest we risk serious health consequences. But American women especially aren’t doing well in moderating their alcohol use, says a new and alarming study from Iowa State University.

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The top-line finding: “More women are drinking alcohol.” That wouldn’t on-face be a bad thing if women were doing so only occasionally, but Iowa State researcher Cassandra Dorius notes: “After decades of steady increases, women’s life expectancy has leveled off in the last five years partly as a result of increased alcohol consumption.” As women are often primary caretakers for children and aging relatives, their drinking has wide ripple effects beyond their own health as well.

The Iowa State researchers presented their findings last month at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, where they noted it’s still unclear what’s behind the rise in women’s consumption. Anecdotally, we can all point to examples of “mommy wine culture” from reality TV shows to cheesy merchandise. But more sociological studies are needed to quantify whether this cultural normalization of women’s drinking, or some other factors, explain the uptick.

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The study’s authors further noted women’s drinking patterns vary based on socioeconomic status and race. White women are most likely to drink, with 55% of them reporting drinking alcohol in the last month, compared to 38% of black women and 46% of Hispanic women. College-educated women across all races were are also more likely to drink, and to drink more frequently than non-college-educated peers. All groups of women consumed, on average, roughly the same number of drinks per drinking occasion, at just over two drinks. (The Centers For Disease Control defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women.)

Researchers’ theories about women’s motivations for drinking abound, from trouble with children “leaving the nest” to social anxiety disorder. Understanding these contributing factors—as well as confronting the darker side of “mommy wine culture”—will be key to reversing the recent trend.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

If I may posit another anecdotal answer...with fewer women feeling societal pressure to have children these days, many of us have more time to drink, and money to buy alcohol. I have no children and a good job, and I have to self-impose limits on myself like no booze before 6pm, because I find I will drink if I’m bored, and there’s nothing to stop me from starting at 11am every Saturday and Sunday and drinking throughout the day. (I got into super good shape in my late 20s and suddenly stopped getting hangovers, and that trend continued even now that I’m not in excellent shape, so hangovers aren’t even a deterrent.) The only thing that stops me is that it’s extremely bad for my health and that it feels pretty pathetic to me.

When the majority of women were married with children, they had a lot more responsibilities, less time and less money for alcohol.