Drinking Alcohol and Income, Education, and Social Class or Status

The more income people have, the more educated they are and the higher their social status or class, the more likely they are to drink alcoholic beverages. They are also more likely to drink if they live in certain countries or regions.

For example, people in the United states are less likely to drink (more likely to abstain) than are those in other developed Western countries, as illustrated in Figure 1.1

Figure 1. Proportion of Abstainers Bar Graph
Figure 1.

Abstention from alcohol in the U.S. is closely associated with social status. The lower the social class, the higher the abstention. And, as is true throughout the world, women are more likely to abstain than are men.2 The proportions of abstainers by class and gender are seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Proportion of Abstainers by Class and Gender Bar Graph
Figure 2.

There is also a strong relationship between higher educational level and alcohol consumption, as Graph 1 demonstrates.3

Graph 1. Proportion of U.S. Population by education who used alcohol in previous month
Graph 1.

In addition, people in the U.S. are less likely to consume alcohol if they are female, African-American, belong to a proscriptive Christian denomination (such as Mormon, Pentecostal and Baptist), are Islamic, live in rural areas, or live in the southeastern region of the country.4

People choose to abstain from alcohol for many reasons. These include religious reasons, moral objections, abstinent family background, dislike of the taste of alcoholic beverages, fear of a lack of self-control, health reasons including the use of certain medications or pregnancy, the belief that alcohol consumption leads to dependence or alcoholism, legal reasons such as age, and the misperception that even light or moderate drinking is unhealthful even when not contraindicated for medical reasons.5


  • 1. Holder, H. D. Alcohol and the Community: A System Approach to Prevention. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p.38.
  • 2. Holder, H. D. Alcohol and the Community: A System Approach to Prevention. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • 3. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 1997. Washington, DC: DHHS, 1998; Wright, J. W. (Ed.) The New York Times 2000 Almanac. New York: Penguin, 1999, p. 398. 
  • 4. Lindquist, , C. et al. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1995, 6, 663-665; Hanson, D.J. United States. In Heath, D.W. International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westwood, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995, pp. 300-315; van Oers, J.A.M. et al. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 1999, 34, 78-88; Slater, M.D. et al. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1999, 60, 667-674; Dufour, M.C. Alcohol Health and Research World, 1995, 19, 77-84; Slicker, E.K. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 1997, 42, 83-102.
  • 5. International Center for Alcohol Policies. Who are the Abstainers? Washington, DC: International Center for Alcohol Policies. Report #8, 2000.

Filed Under: Economics