JOONDALUP, Australia — “Drinking is just something women my age do.” If you thought that statement is probably coming from a millennial, it may surprise you to learn that heavy alcohol consumption is actually a more common lifestyle choice among women in their 50s and 60s.
Researchers at New Edith Cowan University (ECU) say older women are more likely than their younger counterparts to consume alcohol at levels well beyond recommended drinking guidelines. Although aware of possible health risks, many of these women are fine with overindulging, so long as they can do so without embarrassing themselves.
‘Staying in control’ a key for women when socially drinking
The study, done in partnership with Aalborg University, Denmark, looks at the social drinking habits of 49 Danish and Australian women between the ages of 50 and 69.
“Respondents from both countries indicated that alcohol use among women their age was normal and acceptable,” explains lead study author Dr. Julie Dare in a university release. “However, the importance of ‘staying in control’ while drinking emerged as an important qualifier to the social acceptability of drinking.”
Australian health experts warn consuming more than two standard drinks a day has a connection to premature death. Despite this sage advice, the study reveals that participants would rather not tally their drinks or consider health risks. To them, having a good time while behaving respectably is the point of drinking.
“Health messaging of no more than two standard drinks per day and no more than four standard drinks on any single drinking occasion didn’t seem to be relevant to women in this age group. There was a fair percentage drinking over that,” Dr. Dare explains.
Although health concerns may force some older female drinkers to reduce their alcohol consumption, others look to counterbalance alcohol consumption with healthy practices like exercise. Study authors add middle-aged women and younger seniors tend to prioritize the social benefits of drinking.
“It has become part of the norm… it is something we do with our acquaintances, friends and families. That’s just something we do,” a 59-year-old respondent tells the study.
Age and cultural differences tied to alcohol habits
While it may seem like younger adults tend to go out more often, the Australian team discovered that young women are actually drinking less.
“In Australia, younger women are starting to drink less, their rates have declined, but the proportion of women aged 60 and older drinking at levels that exceed single occasion guidelines (more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion) has increased. Similar trends are evident in Denmark and the United Kingdom,” Dare says.
While the study highlights many similarities between Australian and Danish women, one interesting cultural difference was the way Australian women thought about alcohol in relation to stress.
“If the Australian women had some sort of distress in their lives they believed it was acceptable to drink. They were quite open about this saying ‘I just had a bad day, I needed to have a drink,’” Dare adds. “Danish women were not the same. They reported it wasn’t ‘acceptable’ to drink if they were upset. They believed that you shouldn’t use alcohol as a crutch to cope.”
The appears in the journal of Sociology of Health & Illness.