Socioeconomic groups' relationship with alcohol
on socioeconomic groups' relationship with alcohol suggest that
although the proportion of people who drink regularly has fallen
slightly in the last few years, those who drink heavily (above
recommended guidelines) has risen, dramatically in the case of
working people, who drink most frequently and to greater extent than
those who are unemployed or economically inactive.
figures also show that average alcohol consumption levels have
remained steady among those who are employed. An individual is more
likely to drink regularly and above recommended limits during the
week if s/he is a high-income earning managerial/professional worker.
statistics support media reports alluding to the idea of the
middle-class professional who drinks with alarming regularity to
levels of excess. As alcohol has become increasingly available and
affordable over time, a larger proportion of the population has been
able to drink relatively large quantities of alcohol consistently.
For example, one feature titled 'Drink secrets of the middle-class',
stated that career women working in a larger organisation or with
higher managerial jobs were drinking twice the amount of women in
A study in the BioMed Central found that among middle class wine
drinkers, there was also a common perception that health warnings
could be ignored because “their own drinking was problem-free”,
even if it regularly exceeded recommended guidelines.
alcohol consumption can also be symptomatic of the problem of
unhealthy lifestyle habits among high-income earners. This is
reflected in data such as the recent Public Health Survey for Wales,
which reported that adults in managerial and professional households
reported healthier lifestyles in terms of smoking, obesity and fruit
and vegetable consumption, but not for alcohol consumption or
This is demonstrated in Figure 7 below.
7: Maximum daily consumption, by 2011 WIMD quintile, Wales
ONS (2012), 'Welsh
Health Survey 2011', p. 73
positive correlation between socioeconomic status and alcohol
consumption extends beyond the UK. Results from a comparative
international study on alcohol consumption levels and social
inequalities showed that for both genders and all countries higher
individual socioeconomic status was positively associated with
drinking status; in other words, the higher income earned by an
individual, the more alcohol s/he consumed.
is also evidence that hints at the negative effect that heavy alcohol
consumption can have on the health outcomes of poorer households. For
instance, a recent report into alcohol-related health inequalities in
England and Wales was able to establish a clear association between
alcohol-related mortality and socioeconomic deprivation, with
progressively higher rates in more deprived areas, mainly among
adults aged between 25 and 44 years.
This was supported by an ONS publication which found that men and
women whose jobs are classified as “routine” were 3.5 and 5.7
times respectively more likely at risk of dying from an
alcohol-related disease than those in higher managerial and
alcohol consumption can also be symptomatic of alcohol dependency,
which affects tens of thousands of benefits claimants on low incomes.
The Department of Work and Pensions found that as of November 2012,
there were 17,980 recipients of Incapacity Benefit/Severe Disablement
Allowance (IB/SDA) and 36,500 recipients of Employment Support
Allowance (ESA) had alcoholism listed as their main disabling
Scottish trend data highlight increasing inequalities between
households over the negative health impacts of excessive alcohol
consumption, based on the area in which people live.
In 2006/07, the rate of alcohol-related discharges from general acute
hospitals was 7 times higher for patients living in the most deprived
areas compared to the least deprived areas. By 2010/11 the difference
had increased, with the rate of alcohol- related discharges from
general acute hospitals being 7.6 times greater for patients living
in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas.
8: General acute inpatient discharges with an alcohol-related
diagnosis by deprivation; 2006/07–2010/11
Information Services Division (ISD) Scotland (May 2012),
Hospital Statistics Scotland 2012',
ONS, p. 7
the relationship between socioeconomic groups and alcohol consumption
is complex. For instance, evidence on purchasing behaviour presented
to the Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee stated that
'harmful drinkers in the highest income quintile are predicted to be
buying 80 units a week of cheap alcohol'.
Yet, official data also shows that the negative health outcomes of
alcohol consumption fall disproportionately on the unemployed, manual
workers, and those on poorer incomes.
newspaper article on UK drinking habits, CEO of 2020health Julie
Manning commented: “What’s worrying... is the way in which we
overlook the habits of the silent majority who are slowly drinking
themselves to death.”
Health professionals have emphasised the importance of looking at
measures to combat the rising threat of negative alcohol-related
health outcomes of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ulrike, Kuntsche, Sandra, Gmel, Gerhard, Bloomfield, Kim (April
2013), 'Alcohol consumption and social inequality at the individual
and country levels — results from an international study',
European Journal of Public Health, 23: 2, pp. 332–339, Abstract
Parliament Health and Sport Committee (January 2012), 'Official
Report, Session 4', pp. 733–772, 738