Those with degrees are almost twice as likely to drink daily, and they are also more likely to admit to having a drinking problem. A similar link between educational attainment and alcohol consumption is seen among men, but the correlation is less strong. The findings come from a comprehensive study carried out at the London School of Economics in which researchers tracked the lives of thousands of 39-year-old women and men, all born in the UK during the same week in 1970.
The report concludes: “The more educated women are, the more likely they are to drink alcohol on most days and to report having problems due to their drinking patterns.
“The better-educated appear to be the ones who engage the most in problematic patterns of alcohol consumption.”
Women’s alcohol consumption can even be predicted from their scores in school tests taken when they are as as young as five. Women who achieved “medium” or “high” test marks as schoolgirls are up to 2.1 times more likely to drink daily as adults. The authors of the report, Francesca Borgonovi and Maria Huerta, suggest several possible explanations as to why better-educated women drink more. They tend to have children later, postponing the responsibilities of parenthood. They may have more active social lives or work in male-dominated workplaces with a drinking culture. As girls, they may have grown up in middle-class families and seen their parents drink regularly.
In the long-term study, the LSE team followed all the people born in Britain during one week in 1970, asking them questions about their lifestyle at regular periods throughout their lives.
The number of people for whom information was available has varied over the course of the research between 9,665 and 17,287.
The researchers took account of each individual’s school test results and level of academic attainment, as well as their answers to regularly-administered surveys in which they were asked questions such as “Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?” and “Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?”
Women with some educational qualifications were 71 per cent more likely to drink on most days compared to women with no qualifications. Women with degree-level qualifications were 86 per cent more likely to do so. Higher educated women were 1.7 times more likely to have a drinking problem, as assessed through their questionnaire answers, than their less-well-educated counterparts. Women who scored highly in tests while at school were also at greater risk of having drinking problems. Whereas women with medium or high childhood test scores were up to 2.1 times more likely to have a drink most days, men who scored similarly-high scores were only 49 per cent more likely to do so.
“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,” says the report, in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
According to the study, a substantial part of the educational effect is likely to be due to better-educated women having more opportunities and tending to have middle-class lifestyles, exposing them to circumstances that favour alcohol consumption.
“Reasons for the positive association of education and drinking behaviours may include: a more intensive social life that encourages alcohol intake; a greater engagement into traditionally male spheres of life, a greater social acceptability of alcohol use and abuse; more exposure to alcohol use during formative years; and greater postponement of childbearing and its responsibilities among the better educated,” says the report. Commenting on the findings, a spokesman for the Alcohol Concern charity said: “This raises concerns which need to be addressed.
“People with higher qualifications have more disposable income, and we have seen a trend where there has been an increase in the marketing of wine, particularly aimed at working women.
“People who abuse alcohol face a higher risk of suffering from health problems incluidng cancer, liver cirrhosis, lung and cardiovascular disease, and mental and behavioural issues.”