Harvard Women's Health Watch

Women now drink almost as much as men, according to global survey

Research we’re watching

Throughout the 20th century, alcohol use and overuse was considered to be primarily a male issue. But that gender gap is closing, according to a survey conducted by public health researchers from Australia and the United States.

The team analyzed 68 studies conducted worldwide over the last century, organizing the data into three categories—alcohol consumption, problem drinking, and alcohol-related harm. They found that among people born in the early 1900s, women were only 45% as likely as men to drink, 33% as likely to be problem drinkers, and 28% as likely to suffer harm from drinking. In comparison, among people born in the late 1990s, women were 90% as likely as men to drink, 80% as likely to be problem drinkers, and 70% as likely to sustain alcohol-related health issues. The report was published online Oct. 25, 2016, by BMJ Open.

As the gender gap closes, it’s important to note that it’s not a good idea for women to try to match men drink for drink. Because women metabolize alcohol more slowly than men do, one drink for a woman—be it 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of spirits—is equivalent in effect to two drinks for a man.

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