Alcohol 101

New research shows that women with college degrees are “almost twice as likely to drink daily, and they are also more likely to admit to having a drinking problem.” Francesca Borgonovi and Maria Huerta, the authors of the London School of Economics study, also found that childhood test scores predicted adult alcohol consumption: “Both males and females who achieved high-level performance in test scores administered at ages five and 10 are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol than individuals who performed poorly on those tests.” The authors suggest that cultural differences explain the trend – better-educated women may have more active social lives, may have children later in life, and may face different cultural norms of alcohol consumption. (HT: Chris Blattman) [%comments]


Oh I don't know - maybe it's more like "the more I learn, the more bleak the world looks", and alcohol solves that for a little while. :)


Was this study done in Britain, or in the United States? There may be significant differences in the drinking cultures of the 2 countries.


Other hypotheses:

1. Perhaps alcohol consumption is more likely to impair the performance of jobs held by the highly educated than by the less highly educated? As a consequence, equal alcohol consumption among people of different educational attainment might result in unequal "alcohol-related problems."

2. Perhaps highly educated people live in social environments in which they have more to lose if they're incarcerated for using controlled substances? Or they had more to lose during some developmental stage (high school/college) during which people develop their tastes for intoxicating substances? As a consequence, people of all levels of educational attainment may have an equal reliance on intoxicating substances, but people in classes occupied by the highly educated skew more heavily to legal intoxicants.

3. Highly educated people are better able to acknowledge when alcohol causes problems, or are less defensive about acknowledging the problems?

4. Wealth effect - Highly educated people are richer, and therefore consume more of all normal goods, including alcohol?

5. Supply effect - Chablis at faculty events is free?


Mike B

I am sure this is a minority cause, but a female friend who was a PhD candidate would drink, sometimes to excess, because in her words it was the only way she could quiet her mind from thinking about her work. I have heard similar things from a number of other academics as well. So perhaps high performing students just need a way to turn it and socialize.


I think that for people with degrees, there is less stigma with engaging in only lightly destructive personal habits. If you don't have a degree, have a low paying job, perhaps you are conscious that someone might say "well, if you didn't drink so much, maybe you'd have a better job".

Otherwise, i think the having kids thing makes up for the largest component of the difference.


"Both males and females who achieved high-level performance in test scores administered at ages five and 10 are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol than individuals who performed poorly on those tests."

- Thank God. I have an excuse now.


If they are more likely to admit having a drinking problem, then maybe they are more likely to be honest about normal drinking habits, and maybe - just maybe - this is why the research shows women 'almost twice as likely to drink daily' as men

Paul Doane

Alcohol is the drug of choice for most people, and it is a drug. Often called the "grease" of society, an educated person is more apt to land in situations where it is served. An educated person is also more aware of the pressures to succeed in our culture, and the resulting desire to unwind from that pressure. Most people have no problem with this drug, but the problem people leave a horrific trail of wreckage. Many people, myself included, look forward to the time when the far safer drug marijuana will be legal and used to unwind.


I'm very skeptical. It's based on followup data to the 1970 British Cohort Study. Long term cohort studies always have problems with attrition. And someone in a lower income bracket with a drinking problem is precisely the kind of person most likely to drop out of the study.
Someone with higher education is more likely to value studies and is more likely to stick with the program forty years later.

News sources unskeptically quoting conclusions from unreproduced studies is enough to drive one to drink.


I can see why that is true; education leads to better jobs, corporate world or whatever, which leads to more functions and various events where alcohol is present. Stressful jobs sometimes lead to drinking. Simple getting out of the house more often usually leads to drinking especially when getting together with friends or whatever.

I agree with the having kids / other major responsibilities and low income adds to this equation. If I was married with a child right now (mid-twenties), I'd less likely be out with friends or having post-work cocktails. If I didn't have disposable income, I'd also stay at home.

What the heck, do whatever you like as long as you're not harmful to others, generally take care of your health and keep doing your job well.


Alternate explanation that might make a funny t-shirt:

I Drink Because Everyone Around Me Is So Stupid.


possibly the pressure from society, family, friends etc causes educated people to drink more for stress relief. Or as some research has show that will power is like a muscle and can be worn out, educated people use more of their will power muscle on school, career and are then weaker to resisting substance abuse.


I attended a major public university, and there was a strong drinking culture. It was impossible to socialize without drinking. It's possible I would have never "learned" to drink had I not gone to college.


The excess consumption of empty calories is a desperate cry for help: "I'm tired of the isolation my good looks and overachievement have caused, and I want to be more like my unattractive, slack-jawed peers."


University taught me a little about responsible drinking, I suppose.
But I was never the girl doing shots and dancing around topless. I was more likely the one to be giving advice to friends with hangovers.

And no, drunken hollering idiots aren't funny.


I'm pretty well educated and tested pretty well, and I drink pretty heavily. My excuse is that I do it to inflate my ego, since when I'm sober I tend to look at things from so many different perspectives that I experience information-overload paralysis.


It seems many think that the educated lead more stressful lives. I don't know this to be true.

Christopher Strom

#9 dsmccoy has an excellent point.

If the study had been conducted in the US, I would expect a connection between education and alcohol consumption due to the relationship between education and degree of religiosity.

I'm not sure if this relationship would hold in the UK.


The first sentence is a little ambiguous--you could assume that women with college degrees are twice as likely to drink a lot as men with college degrees.


The lack of logic from the "Highly educated" responding here surprises. Must be Liberal Arts majors.