AIMS: First, this paper investigates (i) gender differences in associations of social stratification, family roles, and heavy drinking, and (ii) country differences in these associations. Second, it seeks to explain country differences in the associations of social stratification and family roles with alcohol consumption by societal level variables. METHODS: Survey data of 25 to 49-years-old from eight European countries were used. Logistic regressions were used to analyse gender differences in the association between family roles (marriage, having children), social stratification (education, employment), and heavy drinking (>20 g/day for women; 30 g/day for men). Gender differences were tested by means of interactions between gender and social stratification/family roles. Structural measures of work desirability, social welfare, and gender equity were used to explain differences in associations across countries. RESULTS: The associations between social stratification, family roles, and heavy drinking varied across gender and countries. A country's social welfare system was associated with heavy drinking only among women. Women in countries with a strong social welfare system, such as Nordic countries, tended to drink more heavily if employed, having lower formal education, and a non-traditional family role. In countries with weak social welfare systems or work desirability, heavy drinking was associated with high education, while effects of family roles and employment were small. CONCLUSIONS: It appeared that the social welfare system and gender equity of a country determines to a large extent how education, employment, and family roles are associated with heavy drinking.