Wet and dry generations:
what happens with social change
in drinking?
Robin Room
Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point, Fitzroy, Australia;
Melbourne School of Population & Global Health, University of Melbourne; and
Centre for Social Research on Alcohol & Drugs, Stockholm University
[email protected]
Presented at an Alcohol Research UK conference, “Alcohol through the life
course”, London ,18 March 2014
Historically, there have been big changes
in drinking, some quite fast
1900-1913:
A temperance
high-point
1914-1918:
Wartime
1939-1932:
Depression
1960-1975:
Postwar
prosperity
1995-2005:
Millenial
boom
Litres of pure alcohol consumption per capita in the UK, 1900-2006
[Tighe, A. (ed.) (2007) Statistical Handbook 2007, Brewing Publications]
Italy 1970-2000: alcohol consumption is halved
Factors include:
*urbanisation,
* industrialisation,
* change in women’s
status,
* red wine as demerit
peasant food,
* EU agriculture
policies  rise in
minimum price
(A. Allamani & F. Prina, eds., Why
the decrease in consumption of
alcoholic beverages in Italy?...
Contemp Drug Probs 34:187-378,
2007.)
YEARS
1861-1870
1871-1880
1881-1890
1891-1900
1901-1910
1911-1920
1921-1930
1931-1940
1941-1950
1951-1960
1961
1965
1970
1975
1980
1985
1990
1995
2002
2003
SPIRITS
WINE BEER
LT. PURE
LT.
LT.
ALCOHOL
83.9
90.4
95.4
89.2
119.6
112.1
112.7
88.2
74.8
100.6
108.2
110.1
113.7
104
92.9
75
62.5
55.7
51.0
50.5
0.2
0.4
0.7
0.5
1.1
2
3.3
1.3
1.7
3.7
6.1
8.6
11.3
12.8
16.7
21.9
25.1
25.4
28.2
30.1
0.4
0.4
0.8
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.6
0.2
0.4
0.9
1.2
1.4
1.8
1.8
1.9
1.3
1
0.8
0.4
0.8
TOTAL
ALCOHOL
LT. PURE
ALCOHOL
10.5
11.3
12.3
11.3
14.9
14.0
14.3
10.8
9.4
13.1
14.4
15.0
15.9
14.8
13.7
11.2
9.5
9.2
7.4
7.4
Alcohol consumption in the US 1830s-1970s
(indirect measures during Prohibition)
(Moore & Gerstein, eds., Alcohol & Public Policy, National Academy Press, 1981)
Waves of
Temperance:
1840s,
1860-1880,
1910-1918
Upsurges:
1850s
1880-1910
1940-1980
Schematic diagram of factors influencing
consumption levels
Factors pushing down:
Economic depression
Total war footing
Taxes
Controls on availability/access
Societal responses to problems
Factors tending to stabilize:
Cultural customs
Habit-forming nature of drinking
Factors pushing up:
Rising purchasing power
Deregulation
Greater availability/access
Advertising/promotion
Level of
alcohol
consumption
Factors pushing either way:
Structural changes
Drinking norms
& cultural politics
Social movements
Adapted from: Room, Österberg, Ramstedt & Rehm,
Explaining change & stasis in alcohol consumption. Addiction
Research & Theory 17:562-576, 2009
An example of cultural change in drinking:
U.S. college students 1900-1930
• Strong downward trend after 1900:
– College student opinion turned against drinking:
“a strong and increased questioning of the place
and value of alcoholic liquors in the community
and in personal use, because of their many
unfortunate social consequences”
-- Harry Warner,
“Alcohol in college life: historical perspectives” in Maddox, ed., The Domesticated Drug (1970)
• Reversal in the 1920s:
– The age of “flappers: and the “roaring Twenties”
Vanguards of the reversal: a minority
in the generation born 1888-1900
Birthdates of American authors with reputations as
heavy drinkers or alcoholics
1809 Edgar Allen Poe
(Room, A ‘reverence for
.......
strong drink’ J Stud Alc
1869 Edward A. Robinson
45:540-546, 1984)
.......
1876 Jack London
.......
1879 Wallace Stevens
1880
........
1885 Ring Lardner - Sinclair Lewis
.......
1888 Raymond Chandler - Eugene O’Neill
1889 Robert Benchley
1890
.......
1892 Edna St. Vincent Millay
1893 J.J. Marquand - Dorothy Parker
1894 e.e. cummings -Dashiell Hammett
1895 Edmund Wilson
1896 F. Scott Fitzgerald
1897 William Faulkner
.......
1899 Hart Crane - Ernest Hemingway
.......
1900 Thomas Wolfe
.......
1902 John Steinbeck
.......
1905 John O’Hara
.......
1908 Theodore Roethke
.......
1910
.......
1914 John Berryman - Tennessee Williams
Approximate birthdates, those contributing stories
to the “big book” of Alcoholics Anonymous
1st Edition (1939) 2nd Edition (1955)
1879 x x
1880 xx
.......
1882
x
.......
1888 xx x
1889 x
1890 x
1891 x
.......
1893 x
.......
1895 xx
1896 xxxxx
xx
1897 xxx
1898
xx
1899 x
1900 xxxx xxx
x
1901 x
xx
1902
xx
1903
x
1904 x
xx
.......
1906 x
1910
.......
1914
x
.......
1917
x
.......
1928
x
mean birth year: 1895
1903
(Room, Alcoholism
and AA in U.S. films,
1945-1962. J Stud Alc
50:368-383, 1989)
The vanguard born in 1888-1900 became
the cultural heroes of and models for the
next generation
• “The present trend (1938) is a reversal of the trend of
100 years. It is toward a wider diffusion of drink
practices and greater regularity among larger
numbers. For a comparable situation one must turn
back ... more than a century ago”. (Warner)
• A new “subterranean ethic began to jell” by the mid1920s:... “one drank to become drunk, or, failing that,
to appear drunk.... In addition, one drank in the
company of and together with women”.
-- P. Fass, The Damned & the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. (1977)
The dynamics of generational change:
some hypotheses
• The high-tide mark of drinking styles and patterns tend
to be set in young adulthood (~18-26), at least in
Anglophone societies
• The cultural politics of drinking at the time of young
adulthood for an age-cohort tends to set the frame for
their drinking later in life
– People whose youth did not coincide with the ‘20s never
had our reverence for strong drink.... For us it was a selfrighteous pleasure.... Drinking, we proved to ourselves our
freedom as individuals and flouted Congress.... It was the
only period during which a fellow could be smug and
slopped concurrently.
-- AJ Liebling, Liebling Abroad (1981), p. 667.
Some hypotheses (cont’d)
• A generation may use alcohol as a marker to
distinguish itself from older cohorts (Bourdieu,
Distinction); this can be drinking heavily, as in the US
in the ‘20s – or not at all.
– Red wine was to be avoided -- just a drink for alcoholics, or
alternatively of their parents, according to French students
in their 20s in the 1990s (Freyssinet-Dominjon, J., Wagner,
A.C. L'alcool en fête: manières de boire de la nouvelle jeunesse étudiante.
Paris: L'Harmattan, 2003)
• In such circumstances, transmission down (from
older siblings, and older cohorts, etc.) breaks down
Some hypotheses (continued):
Where there is a continuing cultural dynamic, a trend of change
from one cohort to the next can continue for a long time.
Death rates for liver cirrhosis by age for nonwhite
(mostly Black) birth cohorts, same region & dates
Mainstream US Temperance shifted from New England Abolitionists to Southern
racists. At the same time there was Black migration to the cities, and the “wet”
Harlem Renaissance. (Herd D, Migration, cultural transformation & the rise of Black cirrhosis mortlaaty. Brit. J Addic 80:397-410, 1987.)
Some hypotheses (cont’d)
• A turnaround at the population level in amounts of
drinking may be led by particular cohorts
– e.g., middle-aged cohorts seem to have led the
downturn in US drinking after 1980 (see: Kerr WC et al., Ageperiod-cohort modelling ...Divergence in younger and older adult trends. Addiction 104:27037, 2009)
– “drying” social movements of the middle-aged in
the early 1980s:
• Rise of an alcoholism treatment establishment &
“experience counselors”, consulted as experts
• Mothers Against Drunk Driving movement
• Adult Children of Alcoholics and allied movements
(Room, R. Changes in the cultural position of alcohol in the US: The contribution of alcoholoriented movements, working paper, 1987.)
Some tentative conclusions
• There are sometimes substantial changes on
the level of drinking in a society
– Typically the change is more about the number of
occasions of drinking than about the style of
drinking (Room, The impossible dream? Routes to reducing alcohol problems in a
temperance culture. J Subst Abuse 4:91-106, 1992. http://www.robinroom.net/imposs.pdf)
– The changes may be led by particular birth-cohorts
(“wet” and “dry” generations) changing before
others or where others do not change
– “alcohol through the life course” may differ by
generation
Such conclusions imply differential changes in
drinking in different segments of the population
• This does not conform to Skog’s theory of the “collectivity of
drinking cultures”:
– “changes over time (in a specific population) typically take the form of a
parallel displacement of the whole distribution” (Skog, O-J, “Commentary...” Drug &
Alc Review 20:325-331, 2001)
• Challenged on the theory, Skog acknowledged a “ceteris paribus”
condition:
– “if there are barriers for the diffusion process [of mutual influence on
drinking], for instance between different social-economic strata ... or
gender differences.”
– “Since we do not live in a static world, the relative differences between
subgroups ... cannot be expected to remain fixed and the same
everywhere and at all times. Consequently, group means could change at
different rates and in different directions as societies change.” (Skog,
Commentary...”)
Our challenge: to develop and test
more nuanced theories of sociocultural
change in drinking
• Paying attention to social & societal responses to
drinking as well as to the development of drinking
customs
– “Long waves” of alcohol consumption (and shorter?)
– But also long waves of societal reaction to drinking problems
– What works in curtailing a change adverse to public health
(e.g., Swedish reversal on “medium beer”?)
– What policies are more and less likely to evoke a reactive
rebound in the population or a subpopulation?
– How can policy and regulation enhance a favourable trend?
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