Grab a Beer and Read Up on Americans’ Drinking Habits

Look at the advertising for alcoholic beverages and you’d think young adults do all the drinking in this country. A Gallup poll last month on Americans’ drinking habits suggests otherwise.

“Daily drinking” (as Gallup terms it) is significantly less common among young adults than among their elders. Among people who ever drink, 39 percent of those 50 and older reported having an adult beverage in the 24 hours before being queried. So did 35 percent of the 30-49-year-olds, but just 28 percent of the 18-29-year-olds. Given the typical correlation between age and income, this pattern is consistent with the finding that high-income drinkers are more likely than their lower-income counterparts to have had a drink in the past 24 hours: 41 percent of those with income of $75,000-plus said they’d done so, vs. 36 percent of those in the $30,000-74,999 range and 23 percent of the under-$30,000s. College graduates were also more likely than non-grad respondents to report downing a drink in that period (42 percent vs. 32 percent).

In all, 36 percent of Gallup’s drinkers reported having tossed one back in the previous 24 hours. Predictably, men are more likely than women to have done so (43 percent vs. 28 percent). The poll’s average drinker consumed 3.8 alcoholic beverages in the week before being queried. That’s down from 5.1 drinks in 2003, and is “the first time the average has dropped below four drinks since 2001.”

As for what Americans are drinking, the poll finds beer reasserting its primacy. Wine steadily gained adherents in the ’90s and the first half of this decade-so much so that it surpassed beer in a 2005 poll that asked drinkers to say which sort of alcohol they consume most often. In the new survey, though, the natural order of the drinking universe has reasserted itself. Forty-two percent of drinkers said beer is the alcoholic beverage they have most often, vs. 31 percent picking wine and 23 percent citing liquor.

Wine had made strong gains among Americans in the 30-49 age bracket. But this cohort has swung back to beer, with 47 percent in Gallup’s combined 2007-08 data picking it as their regular tipple, vs. 27 percent choosing wine. Beer is also the favorite of drinkers age 18-29, picked by 45 percent of them. Liquor rather than wine was the runner-up beverage for this age group, chosen by 33 percent. Wine retains its longtime lead over beer (43 percent vs. 33 percent) among drinkers age 50 and older.