More women are drinking alcohol, especially older women and empty nesters, according to research.

A quarter of women who were moderate drinkers while their children were home became heavy drinkers after they left, it found.

“This could be due to ‘empty nest syndrome’ or it could be a newfound freedom from family and child-rearing responsibilities.”
Gloria Jones Johnson

“This could be due to ‘empty nest syndrome’ — loss of a mothering role, depression, isolation — or it could be a newfound freedom from family and child-rearing responsibilities,” said Gloria Jones Johnson, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University and one of the researchers.

In the United States, alcohol use is on the rise, particularly among women in recent decades, said researcher Susan Stewart, also an ISU professor of sociology.

“Data suggests that the increases are happening mostly among middle, mid-life and older women,” Stewart said. “Younger generations, Gen Z and millennials, actually drink less than previous generations did at their age.”

Stress and balancing work and home responsibilities are likely factors for women’s drinking on the rise, she added.

“Women kind of think of drinking as ‘me time,’ and there’s also more women moving into professional fields — like sales and business — where alcohol is part of the culture.”

But the trend could have serious consequences.

Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, where some 88,000 people die every year from alcohol-related causes, according to government statistics, and it is linked to heart disease, liver disease and different types of cancer.

“After decades of steady increases, women’s life expectancy has leveled off in the last five years partly as a result of increased alcohol consumption,” said Cassandra Dorius, also a researcher and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at ISU.

College-educated women were most likely to drink, and drank more days per month.

Overall, about half of women reported drinking around seven days in the last month and averaged just over two drinks a day, the research found, which looked at data from a national longitudinal survey that follows thousands of people from teens into adulthood.

College-educated women were most likely to drink and drank more days per month, married black women were less likely to drink than single or cohabiting women, and white and black women in urban areas were more likely to drink than those in rural areas.

“Some of our findings really break down stereotypes, such as alcohol use is highest among poor women and underrepresented women,” Stewart said.

“We found that not to be true. White women and women with more education and financial means have much higher rates of alcohol consumption.” 

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