The newspapers are always full of this-or-that scientist or social scientist doing this-or-that study and finding out this-or-that weird fact that could just as easily be invalidated by another study in a year’s time, but which provides fodder for the current events comedy shows like Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me and The Now Show in the meantime. But I’m more interested than usual by one particular study on which the UK Telegraph is reporting:
Those with degrees are almost twice as likely to drink daily, and they are also more likely to admit to having a drinking problem.
A similar link between educational attainment and alcohol consumption is seen among men, but the correlation is less strong.
The findings come from a comprehensive study carried out at the London School of Economics in which researchers tracked the lives of thousands of 39-year-old women and men, all born in the UK during the same week in 1970.
The report concludes: “The more educated women are, the more likely they are to drink alcohol on most days and to report having problems due to their drinking patterns.
“The better-educated appear to be the ones who engage the most in problematic patterns of alcohol consumption.”
Women’s alcohol consumption can even be predicted from their scores in school tests taken when they are as as young as five.
Women who achieved “medium” or “high” test marks as schoolgirls are up to 2.1 times more likely to drink daily as adults.
The researchers cite a variety of plausible reasons for these results, including specifically middle-class cultural values, the social lives of working professionals who postpone having families/children, and—and I think this is key—these better-testing or better-educated women often “work in male-dominated workplaces with a drinking culture.” The Telegraph article doesn’t really return to this point, instead dwelling on the class element, but I’d argue, if only anecdotally, that “male-dominated workplaces” is the crux of the whole thing.
As a woman who frequently feels anxious about needing to prove herself in masculine cultures, and as a woman in professional circles where until very recently there were no women at all (journalism, academia) I can attest that drinking is a large part of the sometimes internal, sometimes external need to measure up. This was quite clear in my brief experience in DC journalism-land last summer: I extricated myself from the pressure by virtue of being underage, but I saw a lot of macho bravado in the ways my over-21 colleagues held their beer bottles or how they ordered drinks or even in the ways they interacted with each other while drunk at parties. I know that if I hadn’t had an excuse, I would have felt pretty damn pressured to measure up—as I do in so many other ways when I’m the lone female.
I had a funny conversation at lunch today, in which I found myself desperately insisting that I don’t care about clothes, and knowing even as I insisted it that I didn’t know why I was insisting it, because I knew quite well it wasn’t true. For a good six or eight years I’ve had my eyes glued to the people around me, gauging how they dress, trying desperately to approximate their fashions, and cursing my body when it would mean that the clothes my male friends wear wouldn’t fit me properly. I’ve spent so much time and energy trying and failing to assimilate myself into being “one of the guys,” that it’s laughable to think that I don’t care about clothes. I just bungle them most of the time out of that desperate desire to be part of a gang that still, now that I’ve entered the realm of those “in our twenties,” still feels weirdly homosocial.
I am thankful that I no longer want to be a professional journalist, because I know that homosocial drinking pressure still exists in the profession—and I know that if I were out of college and working in Washington, I would feel under the gun to keep up.