Decreasing alcohol consumption among the Russian population is one of the key aims of the government today. It is tied to solving demographic and social problems, such as death rate decrease, life expectancy growth, and improving the nation’s health.
Some measures aimed at negatively stimulating alcohol consumption have been implemented in Russia over recent years. These include a minimum pricing policy for spirits, a ban on selling alcohol at night, and a ban on alcohol sales from kiosks. At the same time, it is inefficient to fight alcohol addiction without taking into account the lifestyles of certain categories of drinkers, the experts say.
Alcohol consumption, as well as, for example, food consumption, depends on individual economic and social features: gender, age, level of education, place of residence, and revenue. In addition to studying the demand for spirits in quantitative measures (usually expressed in ethanol consumption level), it is equally important to analyze the patterns of consumption, the share of consumers and volumes of certain beverages’ consumption.
Yana Roshchina, Senior Research Fellow at the HSE Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology, and Petr Martynenko, first-year master’s student at the HSE Faculty of Sociology, studied the qualitative characteristics of alcohol consumption among Russians, the correlation between the alcohol consumption pattern and various consumer features in their article ‘Alcohol consumption as a social group indicator in modern Russian cities’, which was published in Ekonomicheskaya Sotsiologia (Economic Sociology) journal, #1, 2014.
‘The choice of alcoholic beverages, as well as other consumer goods, including food, is a part of lifestyle and is closely related to an individual’s social position. That’s why in this study we were mostly interested in patterns of alcohol consumption as a reflection of social meanings attributed to different beverages, as well as their role as social status markers’, Yana Roshchina explains in the foreword to the article.
The empirical base for the study was data from the Russian target group indices of 2000-2010. This database has been maintained by Synovate Comcon annually since 1995 on the basis of a massive questionnaire survey among residents of those Russian cities with a population of over 100,000, and includes data on service and product consumption, media preferences and lifestyles and the socio-demographic characteristics of families and individuals. The study used methods of correlation and cluster analysis, as well as correspondence analysis, which allowed the researchers to track the changes in the consumption pattern over time and examine the correlation between the consumption of certain drinks and a respondent’s attribution to social groups, defined by their gender, age, education, income, and social class.
The authors of the study found out that over the ten years from 2000 to 2010, the share of alcohol consumers among urban residents over 16 fell from 78% to 70.5%, and their number decreased by 2 million people (from 42.3 to 40.3 m). This decrease in drinkers affected males more: during the analyzed period, it dropped by 11% among males and by only 5% among females.
At the same time, females noticeably reduced their consumption of vodka and beer: from 53% to 29% and from 60% to 48% accordingly.
The differences in the pattern of alcohol consumption in Russia directly correlate with the characteristics of social groups, and primarily with gender, age, education, and revenue.
The probability of consuming certain alcoholic beverages linearly increases with the growth of level of education and per capita income (with the exception of the least wealthy strata). As age grows, the share of alcohol consumers increases at first, and then falls. The largest group of alcohol consumers is individuals aged 35 to 44. At the age of 16-19, the study found that there were more drinking females (51%) than males (46%), but in the next age interval (20-25) men are ahead of women.
Roshchina and Martynenko investigated Russian preferences and concluded that beer, vodka and other strong beverages are more specific for men, while wine, champagne, and liqueurs are more popular with women. Class differences are also reflected, mainly in the types of the beverages of choice. Successful and wealthy individuals are more inclined to drink wine, champagne, cognac, whiskey, and exotic drinks such as rum and tequila.
Consumption volume is not an indicator of the quality of alcohol. On the contrary, beer and vodka, although consumed by all classes, are more often consumed by less educated and poorer people.
The study showed that the share of drinkers is higher among people living in cities with a population of over 1 million; married (including unregistered marriages); having a job (the type of labour – physical or intellectual – doesn’t matter); in households without children or with children under 5. ‘Probably the lower share of drinkers in families with children aged 10-18 can be explained by the parents’ willingness not to encourage the children to drink alcohol’, Martynenko and Roshchina suggest.
The share of drinkers among married men is 80.2%, while among single men it’s 67.9%. This variation among women is less: the difference between consumption among married and single women is only 5% (68.5 and 63.3% accordingly). ‘The correlation coefficients show a weak but meaningful correlation: single women are less inclined to drink than married ones’, the article notices.
Among cities with population over 1m, the lowest share of non-drinkers is in St. Petersburg (22%). It was a surprise that the share of drinkers among Ukrainians and especially Byelorussians (75 and 80%) is bigger than among Russians (70.6%), while the figure for Tatars (69.5%) is almost the same as among Russians. ‘This disproves the assumption that Islam is an obstacle for alcohol consumption’, the article authors emphasize.
The share of drinkers is greater among the high and middle class (about 74%), and least in the lower class (60%).
The consumption pattern of various alcoholic beverages confirms the hypothesis that they are often an indicator of a certain status, which is related to a certain level of cultural and economic capital, as well as professional position. We can say that Russian alcohol consumers don’t yet appear to be ‘people of a postmodernist society, whose lifestyles are mosaic and fragmentary’, the authors suggest.
In addition, the research shows that the type of job can also influence the choice of alcoholic beverage. For example, the share of beer drinkers is higher among physical workers as compared to white collar workers (74.4 and 60.8%), and they more frequently drink vodka and bitter liqueurs (52.5 and 39.8%). On the contrary, white collar workers drink more champagne (44.5 and 29.4%), wine (47.9 and 28.8%), and cognac (25.2 and 14.9%).
‘This also demonstrates that certain types of alcoholic beverages are related to status differences between consumers and are meaningful, acting as “official” and “unofficial”’, the article says, ‘In Russia, as well as in Austria, champagne is positioned as a formal and ‘disconnecting’ drink, while vodka and beer function as informal drinks, which are consumed among friends and strengthen social connections.’