Daily Archives: 18/05/2015

Educated UK women have worst alcohol problem in West

Thanks to the Sober Womens Awareness Network (SWAN) group on Facebook for linking these articles.  It was reported on the BBC, in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and the alarmist headline comes courtesy of the Daily Wail.  In fact as the week went on it was picked up by every national newspaper and all were writing about a report out last week that looked at the rate of heavy drinking in the middle class female professional world and how educated UK women  have the worst alcohol problem in Western society.  It also featured a picture and piece by Lucy Rocca from the excellent sober online community Soberistas

Shoot for Femail featuring Lucy Rocca for a feature on recovering from alcoholism and being middle class.
Shoot for Femail featuring Lucy Rocca for a feature on recovering from alcoholism and being middle class.

Educated British women head a global league table for alcohol abuse, a shocking report revealed last night.  It said growing numbers of professional women are drinking at dangerous levels to keep up with men and further their careers.  Many start heavy boozing when young and continue the habit into middle age, downing vast quantities at home, often on their own.

In what has become the ‘dark side of equality’, their drinking habits now resemble those of men, according to the study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.  One in five woman graduates regularly drink ‘hazardously’ compared with one in ten for those with lower levels of education.  Hazardous is defined as consuming at least twice the safe limit of 14 units a week for women and 21 units for men.  A unit is roughly half a glass of wine or half a pint of beer. ‘Women are adopting men’s drinking habits and they are not healthy,’ said Mark Pearson of the OECD.  ‘As women have moved into the labour market they have adapted to the male culture. Jobs where you can earn more are more likely to be jobs that have a lot networking. It’s the dark side of equality.  ‘They aren’t being frogmarched by their bosses but there are social pressures to go out and to network.’

The study, the OECD’s first major report on harmful alcohol abuse, also found that:

  • Four in five drinkers would live longer if they cut back by just half a glass of wine a week;
  • Two thirds of alcohol in the UK is drunk by just 20 per cent of adults
  • Girls have caught up with boys and are now drinking in their early teens, with 41 per cent of 15-year-old girls having been drunk. 

The report compared the drinking habits of men and women from 34 Western countries through analysing social surveys.  The UK had the highest percentage of educated women drinking hazardously. British men were tied for top with Germany.  It found that in many countries including the UK there was a direct link between whether someone drank hazardously and the number of years they had spent in education.

According to the OECD study, women now drink regularly with male colleagues in the pub after work. Not only has it become more socially acceptable, many feel under pressure to drink to boost their career prospects.  And with many more women delaying motherhood, or choosing not to have children at all, they are continuing this lifestyle well into their 30s, 40s and beyond.

The report’s authors called on the Government to bring in tough measures to tackle excessive drinking, such as mandatory calorie labelling which could be particularly effective for women.  Katherine Brown, of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: ‘This report shows the UK has a worrying report card on alcohol compared with other high-income countries.  Of particular concern is the stark increase in women drinking at hazardous levels, including teenage girls, who appear to have overtaken the teenage boys in rates of drunkenness.

There are a number of reasons why women are drinking so much more today, but an important factor is the aggressive marketing tactics employed by the drinks industry to attract female consumers.  ‘We’ve seen a huge surge in female-oriented sweet, fizzy, pink drinks, often linked to sponsorship deals with cosmetic brands, women’s daytime TV shows and sometimes even breast cancer awareness campaigns.’

The OECD report said that the highest proportion of hazardous drinkers was among the 45 to 64 age group, and teenage girls were now drinking just as much as boys.  It concluded: ‘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.

‘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. Much of it is done at home, away from public view.’  Last year a report warned that liver disease deaths were up 500 per cent in 30 years, fuelled by excessive drinking.

I find it interesting that the OECD identify that the highest proportion of harazardous drinking is amongst the 45-64 age group.  And what I’m noticing is that it is this group that is waking up to the issue and doing something about it.  I myself would have been in that demographic if I hadn’t stopped drinking 6 weeks before my 45 birthday and I know I’m not the only sober blogger who is a mid forties, middle class professional.  If you are reading this and happy to share your age, perceived social class and whether you are a professional (and you can do so anonymously) we can do our own straw poll 🙂