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Alcohol in Britain: trends show young men are binge-drinking less, but women are binge-drinking more

Research released today (6 May 2009) shows that the proportion of women who binge-drink almost doubled between 1998 and 2006 and is now at 15% (men who binge-drink increased by 1% to 23%).  However, the proportion of 16- to 24-year-old men binge-drinking decreased by 9% since 2000. Researchers also found that whilst fewer children are drinking, those that do drink are drinking much more than they did in the past.

The research, carried out by a team from Oxford Brookes University for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looked at existing evidence on drinking trends in the general population over the last 20 to 30 years. Five trends highlighted in the report are:

  • An increase in drinking amongst women
    In the UK, women are less likely than men to drink, and women who do drink consume less than men. However the gender gap has generally narrowed over the last 15 to 20 years. Researchers suggest this might relate to the influence of advertising and also women’s increased financial security and independence.

  • An increase in drinking among middle-age and older groups
    In recent years there has been a steady increase in alcohol consumption in these age groups. Researchers say it is likely to be wealthier individuals who are drinking more, however the report points out that alcohol is 65% more affordable now than in 1980. 

  • A recent decrease in drinking among 16-24 year-olds (both sexes but especially men)
    The researchers were surprised to find that young adults are drinking less, especially in the face of rising consumption in the older age groups. Whilst this downturn might seem counter-intuitive, given the media attention on binge-drinkers, recent trends do indicate that this age group are not drinking quite as much as they once were.

  • An increase in alcohol consumption amongst children
    Fewer children are drinking, but those that do drink are drinking much more than they did in the past. Researchers found that the most compelling consideration when trying to explain the rising trend in consumption amongst 11- to 13-year-olds compared with older teenagers and young adults is the influence of parents, family, friends and the home environment.

  • An increase in drinking in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK
    Researchers found excessive weekly drinking has increased in Northern Ireland compared with Great Britain as a whole. One possible explanation for this is the change in licensing laws in 1996, and the rapid growth in the leisure industry since the peace process began.

    Lesley Smith, the report’s lead author, said: “Much concern has been expressed in recent years about young people’s drinking – and young people binge-drinking in particular. Many people will be surprised to learn that young men’s drinking, including binge-drinking, has gone down in recent years, while middle age and older people’s drinking has increased.”


Notes to Editors

  1. The full report and Findings: Drinking in the UK: An exploration of trends by Lesley Smith and David Foxcroft from Oxford Brookes University, is available to download for free from

  2. Binge drinking is defined as the proportion of people who report having drunk over twice the recommended maximum number of units on any day in the previous week.

  3. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is one of largest social policy research and development charities in the UK. Working with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) it aims to influence policy and practice by searching for evidence and demonstrating solutions to help overcome the causes of poverty, disadvantage and social evil.

  4. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust are completely separate from the other two Trusts set up by Joseph Rowntree in 1904; the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd (JRRT). Further information about each organisation can be found at

Issued by Charlotte Morris, Acting Head of Media:

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