Belly Up to the Data Bar for Some Statistics on Drinking

A century ago, do-gooders worried that the lower classes would drink themselves into the poorhouse. Now, a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics indicates a different relationship between drink and poverty. Using data from 1997-98, the study finds poor people far less likely to drink than their better-off compatriots. Among adults with income below the poverty level, 46 percent identified themselves as current drinkers, versus 62 percent of all adults and 76 percent of those with incomes at least 400 percent above the poverty line. Men are more likely than women to be current drinkers, by a margin of69 percent to 56 percent. The gap is proportionately larger among Americans who report having had at least five drinks in a single day during the past year (30 percent of men, 12 percent of women). And it’s wider still among those who’ve had a five-drink day at least 12 times in the past year (15 percent of men, 4 percent of women). On the whole, people classified as “heavier drinkers” (5 percent of all adults) are vastly outnumbered by “infrequent” (15 percent), “light” (29 percent) and “moderate” drinkers (14 percent). Whites (male and female alike) are more likely than members of other ethnic groups to be current drinkers and to be heavier drinkers. The teetotaling ranks are swelled by the16 percent of adults who are former drinkers—7 percent having been regular imbibers and 9 percent of them infrequent drinkers. Former drinkers are especially numerous in older cohorts, with current-drinker status falling steadily above age 45. While reasons of health no doubt play a large role in this, one wonders whether the relentlessly youthful skew of ads for alcoholic beverages allows older consumers to lose interest in drinking.