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13 May, 2015

Risky drinking rising amongst women of higher income, education – OECD report

Bangkok — Changing lifestyles and increasing upward mobility amongst women is leading to a new kind of gender equality — women are becoming just as heavy drinkers as men. A report on harmful alcohol use in the OECD countries, released by the Paris-based organisation on May 12, says, “People with more education and higher socioeconomic status (SES) are more likely to drink alcohol. Less educated and lower SES men, as well as more educated and higher SES women, are more likely to indulge in risky drinking.”

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Click on the image to browse the report

Children, too, are heading in the same direction. Says the report, “The proportion of children aged 15 and under who have not yet drunk alcohol shrank from 44% to 30% of boys and from 50% to 31% of girls during the 2000s. The proportion of children who have experienced drunkenness increased from 30% to 43% (boys) and from 26% to 41% (girls) in the same period.”

The report’s findings are of significant relevance to the travel & tourism industry which, apart from being a major consumer of alcohol, also has a higher proportion of women in the workforce, across all income groups. Although the report covers only the 34 member countries of the OECD, it lends itself to further research worldwide and specifically in the travel & tourism sector.

The media release accompanying the report says, “Today, alcohol consumption by adults in OECD countries is estimated at an average of around 10 litres of pure alcohol per capita each year, equivalent to over 100 bottles of wine. This level has fallen slightly over the past two decades overall but has particularly risen in Finland, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Poland and Sweden. Consumption has also risen substantially in the Russian Federation, Brazil, India and China, although from low levels in the last two. Most alcohol is drunk by the heaviest-drinking 20 per cent of the population.

“Alcohol abuse ranks as one of the leading causes of death and disability, killing more people worldwide than HIV/AIDS, violence and tuberculosis combined. Between 1990 and 2010, harmful drinking rose from eighth to fifth leading cause of death and disability worldwide.”

The report says that the higher level of hazardous drinking amongst women “may be due to the fact that women with higher education may have better-paid jobs involving higher degrees of responsibility and thus may drink more heavily because they have more stress as well as more chances to go out drinking with male colleagues with higher limits of drinking.

“Alcohol use and abuse may also be more acceptable among women with high SES compared to those with low SES. More years spent in education, improved labour market prospects, increased opportunities for socialisation, delayed pregnancies and family ties, are all part of women’s changing lifestyles, in which alcohol drinking, sometimes including heavy drinking, has easily found a place. It is also possible that some of the difference is simply due to how data are obtained, and women with higher education are less likely to under-estimate their alcohol consumption in surveys than those with lower education.”

The report further notes: “Women with higher education who end up taking better-paid jobs involving higher degrees of responsibility may drink more heavily because they are exposed to more stress, and have more occasions of socialising and going out with colleagues. besides, these occasions being typically in masculine work environments, women are confronted with a situation where the limits on drinking are higher than they would be exposed to otherwise. Women of high SES may also wish to engage in heavy drinking as a form of emancipation, similarly to what happened with tobacco smoking in the past century. It is possible that the “innovative” behaviour will then spread to other social groups, eventually reproducing a similar gradient as that observed today in men.”

It also points out the role of “increasing commercial pressures, through pervasive advertising and marketing approaches, which have sought to expand the market for alcoholic beverages to new consumers in the face of an overall decline of the alcohol market in many countries.”

Says the report, “Women, ethnic minorities and young people have been the targets of product differentiation and branding efforts, promotion of alcoholic beverages as lifestyle commodities, through traditional and less traditional – e.g. internet-based channels. The alcohol industry has become increasingly concentrated, particularly in its beer and spirits segments, to cope with the demands of a globalised market and afford increasing marketing expenses to sustain and develop the business.”

The report says that the increase of risky drinking behaviours is a worrying trend as it is associated with higher rates of traffic accidents and violence, as well as increased risk of acute and chronic health conditions. The report shows that several policies have the potential to reduce heavy drinking, regular or episodic, as well as alcohol dependence. Governments seeking to tackle binge drinking and other types of alcohol abuse can use a range of policies that have proven to be effective, including counselling heavy drinkers, stepping up enforcement of drinking-and-driving laws, as well as raising taxes, raising prices, and increasing the regulation of the marketing of alcoholic drinks.

“The cost to society and the economy of excessive alcohol consumption around the world is massive, especially in OECD countries,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris. ”This report provides clear evidence that even expensive alcohol abuse prevention policies are cost-effective in the long run and underlines the need for urgent action by governments.”

He added, “Harmful drinking takes a devastating toll on society. Alcohol is linked with more than 200 diseases including cancers, injuries and neurological problems. Harmful alcohol use is the fifth leading cause of death and disability worldwide, up from 8th in 1990. Every 10 seconds somebody dies from a problem related to alcohol and many more develop an alcohol-related disease.

“Heavy drinking also harms people other than drinkers themselves through traffic injuries and fatalities, violence and anti-social behaviour, as well as increased foetal development disorders when alcohol is absorbed during pregnancy. Finally, alcohol imposes an economic burden on countries both through direct healthcare expenditure and through productivity losses. In Europe, for example, the cost of crime related to alcohol is 33 billion dollars per year, and the cost associated with alcohol-related traffic accidents is 10 billion dollars. In most countries, productivity losses have been estimated in the region of 1% of GDP.”

Mr Gurría said alcohol-related problems were the same as those related to obesity.

“Today no-one doubts that obesity poses a threat to our health systems, our labour markets and our economies. The same is true of harmful alcohol consumption. Binge drinking and heavy drinking carry devastating personal and social consequences, they increase health spending and reduce our standard of living. Through efforts such as this report, the OECD will continue to help countries identify the most promising ways of tackling this problem and promote better policies for better, healthier lives.”

The report was five years in the making. The OECD Health Committee decided to work on this in 2011. That was followed by three meetings of technical experts, and three discussions by senior health officials from all OECD countries. The first draft was published in December 2013, further improved in 2014 and shared with countries for their final comments in December 2014.

Browse the full report at: http://www.oecd.org/health/tackling-harmful-alcohol-use-9789264181069-en.htm