Social roles and alcohol consumption: A study of 10 industrialised countries Academic Article uri icon


  • The empirical evidence as regards the precise associations between alcohol use and social roles, and these associations across genders and cultures is heterogeneous. The literature tends to focus on two central but conflicting theories. The first - classic role theory - assumes that a higher number of social roles is associated with a more structured life and thus fewer opportunities to drink heavily. The second - the multiple burden hypothesis - posits that the increasing complexity of multiple social roles leads to higher stress levels, and thus to increased alcohol use. Survey data on 25-54-year olds in 10 western industrialised countries which participate in the Gender, Alcohol and Culture: An International Study (GenACIS) project were used to test whether holding the three main social roles - partnership, parenthood, and paid labour - had a more protective or a more detrimental association with problematic alcohol use than holding fewer roles. Age and education were included as possible confounders, while the outcome variables were risky single occasion drinking (RSOD) and heavy-volume drinking. For both men and women and in almost all countries, the study found that those who had all three roles were least likely to drink heavily or engage in RSOD, thus supporting the assumptions of classic role theory. It also found that the protective effect of multiple roles was more consistent for RSOD. There were a few countries where a two-role model gave a better fit. Results for Germany (RSOD), Switzerland, and the Unites States (heavy-volume drinking) indicate that the role of paid labour appears to be particularly relevant for risky alcohol use among women. Despite some variability in the association between paid labour and heavy drinking or RSOD among women, in almost all countries the greater the number of roles a person held, the lower their risk of this type of alcohol use was.

publication date

  • April 2009