An analysis of Gallup Polls concerning Americans' alcohol consumption habits shows drinking habits differ substantially by age and gender. Younger people are much more likely than older people to drink, and the drink of choice varies by age, more so among women than among men. The Gallup Polls also show that younger men tend to drink more than women or middle-aged men do; they are much more likely prefer beer to wine or liquor, and are the most likely to report over-drinking.
The results of Gallup's past five surveys on alcohol and drinking, conducted from September 1999 through July 2003, were combined and the resulting sample of more than 5,000 interviews were analyzed to better examine the alcohol consumption habits of men and women and adults in different age groups.
Patterns of Alcohol Consumption Among Americans
Gallup's surveys on consumption habits asked Americans several questions about personal alcohol use, including whether Americans drink alcohol at all, when Americans last imbibed, whether they prefer beer, wine, or liquor, and how many alcoholic beverages they had consumed in the past seven days.
Overall, more than 6 in 10 Americans say they drink alcohol on occasion, and slightly more than one-third say they are total abstainers.
One question asks all drinkers when they last consumed any kind of alcoholic beverage. The results can be used to group Americans into equal thirds: regular drinkers (those who say they drank within the past day); occasional drinkers (those who drank within the past week) and infrequent drinkers those who last drank more than a week ago).
The results of the polls find that younger men are more likely to report drinking alcohol than women in any age group or older men.
Nearly three-quarters of men aged 50 and younger drink alcohol on occasion, while roughly two-thirds of men aged 50 to 64 consume alcohol and only a slight majority of men aged 65 years and older do so.
Two-thirds (66%) of women aged 18 to 29 drink alcohol, which declines slightly to 62% among women between the ages of 30 and 49 and 57% of women aged 50 to 64. A larger decline is evident among women age 65 and older, only 41% of them say they drink alcohol.
Similar patterns exist among men and women in different age groups when asked about the last time they consumed alcohol. Men in all age groups are more inclined than women to say they have consumed alcohol in the past 24 hours. The largest gap appears between older men and women, with 57% of men and only 31% of women aged 65 and older drinking in the past day.
Men, and especially young men, tend to drink a far greater number of drinks than women do. A typical 18- to 29-year-old man has consumed seven alcoholic beverages in the past seven days, about two more drinks per week than men in any other age category. Women in all age groups consume, on average, between two and three alcoholic beverages per week.
Respondents who prefer beer consume at least two more drinks, on average, than do people who prefer wine or liquor. This is also the case for men and for people in every age group, except among those aged 65 and older. Women, interestingly, on average, do not differ significantly on the number of beverages they consume, regardless of whether they most often drink beverages containing beer, liquor, or wine.
Alcohol Preferences Among Different Age Groups
Men are much more likely to say they prefer to drink beer than women are; women are more likely to say they drink wine most often.
Men in every age group prefer beer to wine and liquor. Beer is the preferred alcoholic beverage of 69% of men aged 18 to 29, 65% of men aged 30 to 49, 52% of men aged 50 to 64, and 39% of men aged 65 and older. Fewer than 1 in 10 male drinkers aged 18 to 29 most often drink wine. However, consumption of wine increases steadily in older age groups, with 15% of men aged 30 to 49, 24% of men aged 50 to 64, and 33% of men in the 65 and older age group most often drinking wine. Liquor preference shows only slight differences among men in different age groups.
Women's tastes in alcohol also change over time. Younger women (18 to 29) who drink, drink liquor more often than wine or beer, with 36% preferring liquor, 31% selecting wine, and 29% choosing beer. Wine becomes the drink of choice for women in every other age group. Nearly half of all women aged 30 to 49 say they most often drink wine, and this increases to 55% among women aged 50 to 64 and 62% among women aged 65 and older. As women get older, their preference for beer diminishes dramatically, from 30% among the 30- to 49-year-olds to 18% among women aged 50 to 64 to 11% among women aged 65 and older. About one in five women aged 30 and older say they most often drink liquor.
How Many Admit to Drinking "Too Much" Alcohol?
Younger men have the highest probability of over-drinking. Forty percent of men aged 18 to 29 admit to drinking more than they should at times. By comparison, 29% of men aged 30 to 49, 21% of 50- to 64-year-old males, and only 16% of men aged 65 years and older report drinking too much sometimes.
Women, across all age groups, are much less likely than men in any age group to drink more than they should at times. Only 26% of women aged 18 to 29 drink too much, compared with 19% of 30- to 49-year-old women, 12% of 50- to 64-year-old women, and just 5% of women aged 65 and older.
*The results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 5,114 adults, aged 18 and older, compiled from five polls conducted Sept. 23-26, 1999; Nov. 11-13, 2000; July 19-22, 2001; July 9-11, 2002; and July 7-9, 2003. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2%. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.