The demographic history of the U.S. alcohol consumer

alcohol demographicsWe don’t drink much (and we never really have), what we prefer to drink constantly changes, and religion, gender, and income still matters in what we drink

Know all that foolishness about booze drinking in the U.S.? Prognosticators pontificating about wine, beer, and spirits consumption without any real numbers? That we’re drinking ourselves to death?

Well, forget that. Here are facts – real, certified, mathematical statistics. It’s a freelance piece I wrote for the December issue of the revived American Demographics magazine, “The Demographics of Drinkers.” It starts on page 8 of the linked site.

Among the highlights:

• U.S. alcohol consumption, per capita, peaked in the years before World War I. In other words, despite all the talk about how we’re passing out in front of our kids and the TV set, we have always been one of the least boozed up industrial countries in the world.

• The 15 or so years between the end of World War II and the early 1960s saw drinking reach a low not seen since Prohibition, less than two gallons per person a year (not even one bottle of wine a month). The reason? No one is quite sure.

• Consumption declined again in the late 1980s, thanks to tougher drunk driving laws, groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Just Say No campaign. So today’s drink-free Millennials have nothing on their parents.

• And, perhaps my favorite bit, from a 2019 study by University of California-Davis researchers: People who prefer craft beer are more likely to have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, live in a rural area, drink less expensive or sweet wine if they drink wine, and spend more on alcohol than anyone else. And no one is quite sure why this is, either.

Many thanks to Dane Twining and Tim Simmons, who did the editing on the story, which had more than its share of obstacles on its way to print.

3 thoughts on “The demographic history of the U.S. alcohol consumer

  • By David Chambers - Reply

    Fellow Curmudgeon,

    Thanks for the news that American Demographics is back! This publication was key to my early years in data-driven marketing, way back in… let’s just say many decades ago. Always valuable and insightful, I send my congratulations to you for your words appearing on page 8!


  • By SteveP - Reply

    Well, I may be an outlier – along with 90% of my friends – in regard to the craft beer = DT info. I’m a moderate wine buff as well (in that I buy very little from supermarkets and order wines I like directly). I live in a small city

    When I look around at the crowd at my local microbrews (outside these days) it seems that some attract a lefty bunch and others a righty-er, but in general the visual is “hipster”. There are a few micros I tend to avoid because the crowd is obviously not my kind – if the number of Harleys in the parking area outnumbers the cars, or if there are more than five American flags out front, I get the message – just like many bars. But that’s a minority in my experience.

    I suppose there is some parsing required. What does “prefer” mean and how was it measured? Meaning prefer craft beer over other alcoholic drinks or over Bud? What is “imported” beer? (From the article – Corona?) What defines “craft” beer? Sam Adams from the grocery store? Because if Sam Adams counts then that’s (IMO) a big skew. Thanks for the info

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