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Alcohol Consumption by Young Russians Drops by Half, Study Says

The decrease could be even greater but for the drinking of parents


In Brief

Situation: An increasing number of young Russians are adopting healthy habits such as engaging in sports and abstaining from alcohol. However, parental drinking often undermines the adoption of such healthy practices by young people.

Evidence: The percentage of Russians aged 14 to 22 who consume alcohol has decreased by more than half over the past 15 years.

More Details

Sociologist Valeria Kondratenko used data from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey-HSE (RLMS-HSE) to demonstrate that the percentage of young Russians aged 14 to 22 who consume alcohol decreased by 2.3 times from 62.1% to 26.9% between 2006 and 2019. The percentage of alcohol consumers in the subgroup of adolescents aged 14 to 17 dropped from 39% to 9.8%, while among 18 to 22-year-olds, it decreased from 77.1% to 43.1%. This paper also explores the correlation between the alcohol consumption habits of children and those of their parents. It turns out that teenagers in families that drink are more likely to drink as well, particularly if the parents are problem drinkers and if there is no father in the family. A paper with the findings of this study has been published in the Bulletin of RLMS–HSE.

What Is It All About?

There has been a noticeable shift in alcohol consumption patterns in Russia over the last 15 years. First, the proportion of drinkers is decreasing every year, while the proportion of non-drinkers is growing. Second, a shift in alcohol consumption patterns has been observed in Russia, following the global trend, from the northern pattern characterised by infrequent but heavy consumption of strong alcohol towards the southern pattern which entails more frequent but moderate consumption of lighter alcoholic beverages.

In her previous paper informed by data on alcohol consumption by Russians aged 16 and older, Kondratenko found the proportion of non-drinkers had increased from 23.7% in 2006 to 38.8% in 2018. Young people were the greatest contributors to this trend of sobriety: the percentage of non-drinkers in the under-25 age group more than doubled from 25.4% to 55% during the period under consideration.

Arguing that young people differ substantially from the rest of the population in terms of consumption practices, the author quotes Vadim Radaev’s finding that the younger generation, in addition to drinking less, also exercise more and share a generally positive outlook on their future, and on life in a broader sense. The overall trend is similar in other age groups, but the increase in non-drinkers is not as high, with 14.6% to 28.6% among those aged 26 to 40 and 18.3% to 30.7% among 41 to 60-year-olds. A transition from strong spirits to lighter alcoholic beverages is also more noticeable in the younger cohorts.

These changes were first observed after the introduction of stricter measures to regulate alcohol consumption. In 2006, Russia introduced EGAIS, the Unified State Automated Information System for collecting data on production, distribution and sales of alcohol and alcoholic beverages, and the requisite excise stamps. In 2009 a national anti-alcohol policy was developed for the period 2010-2020, aiming to reduce alcohol consumption by 50%.

While these measures are important and effective, young people's consumption practices are also affected by their socialisation, in which the family plays a key role. In fact, today the family gets to influence young people over a longer period than before, since the younger generation tend to take more time to leave their parents and start an independent life. Those who witness their parents drinking heavily are likely to eventually follow their example. Similarly, a responsible attitude towards drinking can be passed down from parents.

In her new paper, the researcher examined the trends of alcohol use among young Russians in relation to their parents' drinking habits. Additionally, she identified four typical alcohol consumption patterns among young people based on the 2012-2019 survey data.

How Was It Studied?

The paper is based on data from the RLMS-HSE survey of households. The total sample of young people in the 2006-2019 survey was 27,638. The age subgroups of 14-17 years and 18-22 years were considered separately, as 18 is the legal age for purchasing alcohol in Russia; in addition, parents can influence the behaviour of younger and older youth in different ways.

Young people who consumed alcohol were classified into three groups based on their drinking habits: those who drank alcohol occasionally, those who had consumed alcohol within the past month, and those who drank excessively (as determined by the total amount of pure alcohol they consumed). The respondents were also asked about their preferred alcoholic drinks. These ranged from beer, wine and champagne to vodka, moonshine and cognac.

Based on a sample of 3,095 young people aged 14 to 22 who had consumed any amount of alcohol within the month before the survey, Kondratenko utilised cluster analysis to identify four types of alcohol consumption within this cohort.

What Was Found?

Starting in 2006, the proportion of drinkers in both youth subgroups decreased by 30 or more percentage points. In 2006, 0.5% of respondents under 18 and 5% of those aged 18 and older were excessive drinkers. Over the next decade, this figure decreased to zero in the younger group and to 2% in the older group. Currently, the proportion of excessive drinkers among young people aged 14 to 22 is estimated at 1.1%.

Secondary school students consume smaller amounts of alcohol than university undergraduates. For both males and females in the 14 to 17 age group, the average monthly consumption of pure alcohol ranged from 100 to 200 grams. For women in the 18 to 22 age group, the average monthly consumption of pure alcohol ranged between 150 and 180 grams. In the same age group of men, the average monthly consumption of pure alcohol was two to three times higher than all other cohorts, ranging from 200 grams to almost 400 grams.

Beer is the preferred alcoholic beverage among young consumers, but it has been losing popularity, with a more than three-fold drop from 37% to 11% since 2006. The second most popular drink is wine, consumed by up to 15% of respondents between 2006 and 2012 and by 5% to 10% in subsequent years. Vodka comes third in popularity. Between 2006 and 2012, the level of vodka consumption by young people decreased by half to 5% and continues to decline.

There are differences in alcoholic drink preferences between young men and young women, but beer is a universal favourite. Vodka is the second most popular alcoholic beverage among all men over 16, which also holds true for young males aged 18-22 (almost 27% of whom consumed vodka in 2006, and about 8% in 2019). The same subgroup ranks wine as the third preferred drink (5% in 2019). However, among males aged 14 to 17, wine is the second most popular alcoholic beverage. In 2006, 4% consumed it, but this figure decreased by 2019. Some 5% to 8% of men aged 18 to 22 consume cognac, whisky or liqueurs.

Young women exhibit similar alcohol consumption patterns as all women over the age of 16 who drink. First, beer is the most preferred beverage, followed by wine. Second, the percentage of women who consume both drinks decreased throughout the period under consideration. Among girls aged 14 to 17, the proportion of beer enthusiasts decreased from 13% to almost 2.5%, while the percentage of wine drinkers decreased from 9% to 3%. For young women aged 18 to 22, the percentage of beer drinkers decreased from 40% to 12.5%, while the percentage of wine drinkers decreased from almost 24% to 16%. Alcoholic cocktails rank third in popularity among young women.

In terms of the types of alcohol consumed, the final typology identified four clusters: 'beer only' (37.6% of the sample), 'vodka, beer, etc.' (15.3%), 'cognac, whisky, liqueur, beer, and other beverages' (23% of the sample), and 'wine and beer' (23% of the sample). 'Other beverages' mentioned in the third cluster can include dry wine, champagne, moonshine, cocktails, etc. A sociodemographic profile was created for each cluster:

 'Only beer' is the most numerous group, with a high prevalence of young men and residents of villages and urban-type settlements. This cluster has the highest percentage of young individuals with a secondary education and a significant proportion of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17.

 'Wine and beer' is a group with the highest proportion of young women, as dry wine and champagne are considered 'women's beverages'. This type of alcohol consumption is common among residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg, with many of them having vocational training. This group has the highest percentage of persons younger than 17.

 'Cognac, whiskey, liqueur, beer and other beverages' is also a predominantly women's cluster, with liqueur, cocktails, dry wine and champagne preferred by female consumers. This type of alcohol consumption is characteristic of young people living in regional centres and having higher education.

 'Vodka, beer and other beverages' (including cognac, whiskey and moonshine) is a mostly male cluster, since vodka and other strong alcohol are mainly consumed by men. This group has the highest number of people living in villages and urban-type settlements. This is also the oldest group in the sample, consisting almost entirely of 18-22-year-olds, while adolescents tend to consume lighter beverages.

Compared to the sample of all Russians aged 16 and older who consume alcohol, the younger sample has only one cluster that prefers a single type of beverage: 'only beer'. In contrast, the broader sample has three such clusters: 'only beer', 'only vodka', and 'only wine'. Other clusters in the younger sample include more than one preferred alcoholic beverage.

A separate storyline in the new study is the correlation between alcohol consumption practices of young people and their parents. In most families (63.8%), both the mother and father consume alcohol at least occasionally. In just 12.6% of families, both parents abstain from alcohol. In 16.5% of families, only the father drinks, and in 7.1% of families, only the mother drinks. The amount of alcohol consumed is also an important factor.

In the younger age subgroup, around a quarter of households have non-drinking mothers. In more than 40% of households, mothers drink in moderation, with 20% of mothers having consumed no alcohol in the last month. Only 4% of mothers drink excessively. In the 18 to 22 subgroup, all figures concerning mothers' drinking habits are somewhat lower.

The situation with fathers is different. Among respondents aged 14 to 17, 40% of their fathers consume alcohol in moderation. Compared to mothers, a smaller proportion of fathers do not drink at all (13%) or have not consumed alcohol in the last month (11%), and 6.8% of fathers are excessive drinkers. The reasons for this are twofold — a relatively high proportion of men consume alcohol in Russia, and they also tend to drink larger amounts of alcohol.

Young people are more likely to consume alcohol in families where both parents drink. In the 14 to 17-year-old subgroup, 20% of young alcohol consumers come from such families, and in the 18 to 22-year-old subgroup, this number goes up to 70%. A similar percentage of young people who drink alcohol come from families where only the mother drinks: around 20% in the younger subgroup and approximately 60% in the older subgroup. A significant proportion of 18-22-year-olds who drink alcohol — 45% of young men and 25.7% of young women — come from families in which only the father consumes alcohol.

Additionally, the proportion of young people who consume alcohol is higher than the sample average among those who have at least one parent who drinks excessively and those who come from a single-parent family.

Male respondents aged 14 to 17 with an mother who drinks excessively show a significantly higher alcohol consumption rate, with up to 40.4% of them consuming alcohol, which is more than twice the sample average of 19.8%. Slightly lower but still higher than the sample average — 28.4% versus 19.6% - is the rate of alcohol consumption by 14 to 17-year-olds with a father who drinks excessively. In other words, the drinking habits of school-age adolescents are more strongly influenced by their mother's excessive drinking than by their father's.

The percentage of 18 to 22-year-olds who consume alcohol is significantly higher among those who have a parent with excessive drinking habits compared to the sample average: for men, 78.4% in case of an alcohol-abusing mother and 70.6% in case of an excessively drinking father, and 65.9% and 61.2%, respectively, for young women.

Among families where both parents drink excessively, 41.3% of boys and 32.1% of girls aged 14 to 17 (compared to the sample average of 19% for both genders) and 80% of men and 77.3% of women aged 18 to 22 (compared to the sample average of 60% for both genders) develop a drinking habit. 'Parents who drink excessively reduce the likelihood of their child abstaining from alcohol to a greater extent than do parents who consume alcohol in moderation or do not drink at all', the researcher concludes.

Why Does It Matter?

The study confirms the effectiveness of the State's anti-alcohol policy. It also offers guidance for parents. Since children are known to mimic negative parental behaviour, parents would benefit from changing any bad habits they may have.


Study author:

Valeriya Kondratenko, Research Assistant, HSE Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology; Lecturer, Department of Economic Sociology, HSE Faculty of Social Sciences

Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, April 06, 2023