What’s driving more women to drink?

AMES, Iowa – More women are drinking alcohol and an Iowa State University research team is working to understand why.

Not only is the gap shrinking between men and women who drink, but ISU researchers found variations in the amount and frequency women drink based on age, race, education, marital status and other factors. Susan Stewart, professor of sociology, says the research compared the experiences of women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s to see how life changes and events influence drinking.

Overall, 52 percent of women reported drinking around seven days in the last month and averaged just over two drinks a day. Stewart; Gloria Jones Johnson, University Professor of sociology; and Cassandra Dorius, assistant professor of human development and family studies, analyzed data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. The survey follows thousands of people starting as teens and into adulthood.

While women still drink less than men, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there is little evidence to explain their increase in consumption. Stress, social acceptance of alcohol and life changes are often cited as potential factors, but Stewart says this is largely anecdotal. By comparing alcohol consumption across social categories, the researchers want to provide a greater understanding of why women drink as well as dispel some myths.

“Some of our findings really break down stereotypes, such as alcohol use is highest among poor women and underrepresented women,” Stewart said. “We found that not to be true. White women and women with more education and financial means have much higher rates of alcohol consumption.”

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