Although there is a larger percentage of drinkers among high-status professionals and executives compared to low-status workers, the former consume less alcohol. This is one of the findings of a study carried out by researchers of the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences and published in Voprosy Statistiki.
Alcohol abuse is a major cause of disease and premature death, affecting a substantial number of individuals worldwide. In 2021, excessive alcohol consumption was reported to be either a direct or indirect factor contributing to nearly 50,000 deaths in Russia. Studies also indicate that individuals with lower socioeconomic status experience disproportionally greater alcohol-attributable health harm. In a recent study based on Russian data, HSE economists have investigated the impact of an individual's professional and social status on their likelihood of alcohol consumption and the quantities consumed.
The researchers used data from a sample of 50,000 employed women and men aged 16 to 55 and 16 to 60, respectively. Between 2013 and 2019, the participants were surveyed regarding the frequency and volume of their alcohol consumption during the preceding month. Additionally, they were requested to specify their professional category and self-perceived social status. The researchers purposefully refrained from using more recent data, as they recognised the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on alcohol consumption, which could potentially distort the findings.
The survey method involved repeated surveys of the same respondents over an extended period, which allows for a partial differentiation between the characteristics of a social group and those of individual respondents. For instance, if an individual continues drinking a specific type of alcohol in the same quantities even after a change in their professional status, it may indicate consistency in their personal habits and preferences, rather than similarity in consumption patterns between their previous and current professional groups.
In contrast to earlier studies, the authors did not focus on specific occupations, such as 'industrial workers' or 'military personnel', but instead examined more comprehensive categories, including 'skilled manual workers', 'retail and services employees', 'mid-level professionals and civil servants', among others. Regarding social status, the researchers employed a subjective approach by requesting that respondents rate their own social status on a scale ranging from 'people who are not respected at all' to 'people who are highly respected'. The researchers collected data on alcohol consumption both in terms of specific beverage types (beer, vodka, wine, spirits, cocktails) and in terms of pure alcohol content.
The percentage of respondents who consumed alcohol at least once a month remained relatively stable throughout the seven-year study period, with a slight decrease from 57% in 2013 to 51% in 2019. As anticipated, the proportion of female drinkers was consistently lower than that of males, typically differing by an average of 10 percentage points. The study found higher proportions of both male and female drinkers among individuals holding high-status professional and executive positions, as opposed to those in lower-status occupations. Furthermore, distinctions were observed in the preference for different types of alcoholic beverages. Individuals in high-status positions consumed vodka and beer far less frequently, while showing a higher inclination towards consuming wine and spirits (excluding vodka) compared to low-status employees. In general, there is a positive correlation between higher social status and the likelihood of alcohol consumption, and the higher one's social status, the more likely they are to consume alcohol at least occasionally.
However, when it comes to the quantity of alcohol consumed, the situation is different. Women consume significantly less alcohol, averaging approximately one-third of the amount consumed by men. As for social status, respondents who perceive their status as very low consume considerably more alcohol (in the case of men, the difference is 2.2 times) compared to those who perceive themselves as having a very high status.
Thus, the study indicates that individuals with higher social and professional statuses have a greater likelihood of consuming alcohol at least occasionally. However, their consumption volumes are typically lower compared to individuals with lower social and professional statuses. Similar patterns can be observed in the data obtained from previous surveys of Russians.
According to the authors, this result can be partially attributed to the varying levels of education and income among the selected groups. Individuals with high social and professional statuses tend to have higher education levels and greater earnings compared to individuals in lower-status professional and social groups. High-status individuals are also likely to be more aware of the adverse effects of excessive alcohol consumption. All these factors combined appear to contribute to the distinct alcohol consumption pattern between the study groups.
Well-educated individuals with high professional and social statuses opt for higher-quality and pricier alcoholic beverages. They may indulge in these drinks occasionally, perhaps a few times a week, while limiting themselves to a glass or two. They often pair their drinks with a good snack, enjoying them during lunch or dinner at a restaurant, social gatherings, or in the comfort of their own home. They may also drink while attending public or corporate functions as a part of their professional obligations.
In contrast, individuals with lower professional and social status exhibit different patterns of alcohol consumption. They tend to consume inexpensive alcoholic beverages once or twice a week, but in larger quantities. It is not uncommon for them to consume an entire bottle at a time. Snacks are typically minimal or absent altogether, and they sometimes drink in public spaces such as building lobbies or on the streets. In this context, one can anticipate more significant adverse consequences stemming from alcohol abuse, both on an individual level (including health issues and loss of employment prospects) and on a societal scale (such as decreased labour productivity and escalated healthcare expenses).