According to a new study published yesterday in the journal BMJ Open, women born in 1976 and onward are now drinking way more alcohol than their mothers and grandmothers did. Researchers looked at the consumption habits of more than four million people born in the last century and found that women today are boozing it up almost as much as men.
Historically, men have consumed more alcohol than women—anywhere from two times to 12 times as much, past studies have found. But recent evidence has suggested that may not be the case anymore. To find out for sure, researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of the University of New South Wales in Australia pulled past studies that focused on, among other things, alcohol-related problems, alcohol abuse, and binge drinking. They then narrowed their results down to literature that focused on sex differences in consumption and related harms.
Ultimately, they honed in on 68 international studies published since 1980, a third of which focused in North America. In all, the combined sample size revealed 4,426,673 participants who were born between 1891 to 2000. From there, researchers analyzed the convergence of drinking habits of men and women and how that ratio changed over the years.
"Among those born in the early 1900s, males were 2.2 times more likely than females to consume alcohol, 3.0 times more likely to drink alcohol in ways suggestive of problematic use and 3.6 times more likely to experience alcohol-related harms," the study's authors write. "Among cohorts born in the late 1900s, males were 1.1 times more likely than females to consume alcohol, 1.2 times more likely to drink alcohol in ways suggestive of problematic use and 1.3 times more likely to experience alcohol-related harms."
These results debunk the notion that alcohol use and alcohol abuse are restricted to a "male phenomenon," they conclude, and suggest "that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms."
There are things that women want to catch up on and things we shouldn't be catching up on.
Diana DiNitto is the Cullen Trust Centennial Professor in Alcohol Studies and Education at The University of Texas at Austin. The biggest takeaway from the study for female drinkers, she tells Broadly, is "if they are going to drink, they should observe safe drinking limits."
Women process alcohol differently from men, DiNitto points out. That's why the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests different drinking guidelines for men and women, she says. The federal government defines moderate drinking for women at up to one drink a day; for men, it's up to two drinks.
Instead of focusing on the fact that more women are drinking, DiNitto says it's more important to consider who's drinking safely. "We need to be aware of the fact that no one is immune to drinking problems."
While the study didn't delve into why the male-female gap in alcohol consumption is closing, it does speculate that it may be because traditional women's roles have changed: More women are working outside of the home and waiting until later in life to have babies.
"It's unfortunate," DiNitto says. "There are things that women want to catch up on and things we shouldn't be catching up on."