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Alcohol consumption is widely reported in today’s media and suggests there is an epidemic of binge drinking within Britain. Recently, the media have started to point fingers at women. An article in The Times on 20/1/2010 by Damian Whitworth suggests binge drinking is increasing ‘especially amongst women in the UK’. It is the intention of this research to look at this subject and the gender differences towards alcohol and see whether there are statistical significance between gender and attitudes.
• To assess gender differences between the view that people would think it were odd if they didn’t drink at all.
• To assess the gender differences between the view that getting drunk is acceptable.
• To assess the gender differences between the view that drinking alcohol is part of the British way of life.
For the research conducted, secondary data was used. ‘Secondary data-analysis is the process of exploring survey data which already exists’ (Burton 2000; 347) There are many advantages to using secondary data, it is easy to replicate studies and re-analyse the data from different perspectives. The size of the samples used in secondary data is huge, it would be difficult and extremely expensive get such a large sample with the range of topics used in many data sets and enables the researcher to conduct longitudinal research as funding might not necessarily be available (Burton 2000; 248). Secondary analysis is also useful when results are needed quickly, as all the results have already been collected, inputted and coded into a computer. It saves money and time. However, not all surveys conducted are the same quality in terms of validity and reliability.
The secondary data used is taken from the Health Survey for England (HSE), and is taken annually from people living in Britain about the status of their health. Alcohol consumption is in the lit of ‘core’ questions asked as not only is it deemed a health issue but it is also deemed a social issue too. There is no longer an age limit for people answering the questions, however, over the issue of alcohol, there are ethical issues with asking questions to anyone below the age of 18. This will be explored later on in the essay. The survey used was conducted between January 2007 to April 2007, and covers 14,386 individuals and 24,910 households using a repeated cross-sectional study (HSE; 2007) using random samples.
The results show that there are strong gender differences with views toward alcohol and alcohol consumption. When asked whether they feel getting drunk is acceptable, a higher percentage of men believed it was more acceptable than women. 3.5%, a total of 96 men, strongly agreed, whereas only 2.3% of women, a total of 79, strongly agreed. 14% of men agreed, and only 9% of women agreed. However, more women than men strongly disagreed that getting drunk was acceptable with 31.4% a total of 1084, against only 25.8% of men, a total of 715 believed this was the case.
When asked whether they believed drinking is part of the British way of life, again a higher percentage of men strongly agreed with this statement than women. 11.5% of men strongly agreed whereas only 9.7% of women strongly agreed. The lower down the likeness scale, women were more dominant with strongly disagreeing 3.4% compared to only 2.6% of men. This distinct correlation continued when asked whether other people would think it was odd if they didn’t drink alcohol. 31.6% of men agreed that people would think it was odd if they didn’t drink alcohol, compared to 25% of women asked.
When viewing the results there is a clear difference between male and female views towards alcohol consumption within the UK. However, to see whether these results were statistically significant, a Mann Whitney U test was performed as the data used was ordinal. When using the test, for anyone that answered ‘I do not drink alcohol’ were removed from the search for ‘People would think it odd if I didn’t drink alcohol’.
Mann Whitney U Tests
Rating levels for the statement ‘Getting drunk is acceptable’ differed significantly between males (median =2 (Agree)) and females (median=3 (Neither agree nor disagree)) The difference is statistically significant (U = 4295423.5, p= 0.000).
Rating levels for the statement ‘Drinking is a part of the British way of life’ differed significantly between males (median =2 (Agree)) and females (median =3 (Neither agree nor disagree)) The difference is statistically significant (U= 4325708.5 p=0.000)
Rating levels for the statement ‘People would think it odd if I didn’t drink alcohol’ differed significantly between males (median = 2 (agree)) and females (median = 3 (Neither agree nor disagree)). The difference is statistically significant (U=4295423.5 p=0.000)
Therefore there are distinct gender differences with attitudes towards alcohol, despite the media impression that women are drinking the same if not more than men. This replicates the study conducted by H.Pyne in 2002, which shows that ‘a higher proportion of men than women are heavy or excessive drinkers. Women were found to be more likely to abstain from alcohol than were men’ (2002:16) It was also found that if you breakdown the drinking attitudes into gender categories, it was show a vast difference ‘in consumption between men and women’ (2002:16) However, the researcher was also quick to point out that gender also ‘interacts with other variables, such as age, socio-economic status, region (urban vs. rural) and ethnicity to affect consumption levels and patterns’ (2002:16) The research conducted only concentrated on gender and attitudes towards alcohol rather than any other factors that would have affected the findings such as status and race of the samples. This is the limitation to the study conducted.
The sample size used was random sampling which is seen as ‘the most reliable way of obtaining a representative sample’ (Burton 2000:309) and a wide cross-section of people living in Britain were included. There are ethical issues that come into play when asking individuals about alcohol as there is a strict age limitation on the consumption of alcohol and buying alcohol. However, many people under the age limit drink alcohol, and this is where some of the gender differences seen in the study could change. It is the belief in the media that ‘young’ girls are drinking more and more, but due to the ethical issues, it would not be possible to quantitatively do research on this subject.
The research conducted shows that there are gendered differences in attitudes towards alcohol. To make the research more reliable, the research could have been cross referenced with race and age to give more of an overview of the social problem that alcohol has become. However, it does discourage the view that females are drinking as much as men, as the Mann Whitney test shows, the difference is statistically significant between the two genders. To see the change in attitudes, it would be possible to see whether attitudes have changed over the years, rather than just looking at 2007, it would be interesting to see whether there were any differences between attitudes in 1997. Perhaps the results would be significantly different between the 10 years for women.
Burton, D (2000) Research Training for Social Scientists Sage Publications
HSE Data Set - http://www.esds.ac.uk/findingData/snDescription.asp?sn=6112
Pyne, H (2002) Gender Dimensions of alcohol consumption and alcohol related problems in Latin America and the Caribbean The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The World Bank. Washington.
Whitworth, D (2010) Times Online Article http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/the_way_we_live/article6994340.ece. Accessed on 20/01/2010.
Felicity Eden is a third year mature student at the University of Brighton studying Sociology. Felicity is going on to train in a PGCE next year.
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