Does Europe really have a better drinking culture for young people?

German Lopez at Vox reports:

If you look at the data, there’s no evidence to support the idea that Europe, in general, has a safer drinking culture than the US.

According to international data from the World Health Organization, European teens ages 15 to 19 tend to report greater levels of binge drinking than American teens.

This continues into adulthood. Total alcohol consumption per person is much higher in most of Europe. Drinkers in several European countries — including the UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland — are also more likely to report binge drinking than their US counterparts.

Younger teens in Europe appear to drink more, as well. David Jernigan, an alcohol policy expert at Johns Hopkins University, studied survey data, finding that 15- and 16-year-old Americans are less likely to report drinking and getting drunk in the past month than their counterparts in most European countries.

File under Wisdom of the Mormons.


Id take any sort of analysis done by Vox in general or German Lopez specifically with a huge grain of salt. Not saying hes wrong or lying, but any time i look even a little bit at this sort of Vox analysis, i find huge problems such as selective quoting of stats that bolster the claims made, ignoring research that they dont like, picking dates for time based graphs that are blatantly dishonest, etc etc. Its a fair bet that when he says that "If you look at the data" what he means is, "If you look at the data that i like and ignore what i dont like"


The first is a classic example of the genre, the second is an analysis of yet another example.

^ to clarify, I am only referring to GL here and not other Vox authors. And yet I imagine he is probably correct on this issue, assuming there are no differences in the likelihood of truthfully self reporting in surveys.

Is there anyone who does analysis that doesn't selectively quote stats, ignore research they don't like, etc.?

I get that Vox is sensationalist, but short of actively lying about the stats they present, they're free to draw their own conclusions about how the world works, just like we all do.

Sue they can draw their own conclusions, but if a source is known to ignore data they dont like, your a fool to think that their conclusions are anything but propaganda.

If you really think everyone does it, then your best bet is to simply ignore all analysis. Personally, i believe that while no analysis is perfect, there is a substantial difference between those done by people with a history of intellectual honesty and those done by people with a history of dishonesty.

You selectively ignore data just because it comes from VOX. Does that make your analysis invalid?

No, im skeptical of data coming from Vox because they have a history of misleading analysis.

"Sue they can draw their own conclusions, but if a source is known to ignore data they dont like, your a fool to think that their conclusions are anything but propaganda."
Maybe you should give us your list of general sources that don't ignore data they don't like. I surely could use some laughs.

"but short of actively lying"

Doesn't Vox actively lie about the type of journalism they perform?

Binge drinking rates are a poor metric.

Do Europeans have more DUI/DWAI traffic deaths per capita?
Are the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption (especially in countries with fat heavy diets) considered?
Do Europeans have more unwanted sexual activity associated with inebriation?
Do Europeans have more alcohol related lost work productivity?
Do Europeans have more alcohol related non-sexual assaults?
Do Europeans have more alcohol related parental rights terminations or divorces?

"Binge drinking rates are a poor metric."

Yes, isn't binge drinking usually classified as four or more drinks in one night? Or something along those lines? That really isn't that much alcohol unless your completely uninitiated.

It's defined in the article as 60 grams of pure alcohol, which a bit of googling defined for me as the equivalent of six standard drinks.

1.5 bottles of wine constitutes "binge drinking?"

Good grief.

I don't want to live in a culture where I can't drink a fifth of Popov in one sitting without being called a "problem drinker" or an "alcoholic" or "not allowed at the public pool".

60g of pure ethanol occupies 76ml of volume; which is just 5/6ths of a bottle of wine (assuming 12.5% alcohol by volume, 750ml standard wine bottle). Hardly a binge, at least by European teenager standards.

"Hardly a binge, at least by European teenager standards."

Isn't that the point, that Europeans overestimate what amount of alcohol constitutes healthy alcohol consumption?

"Do Europeans have more DUI/DWAI traffic deaths per capita?"

Ironically, this is also a poor metric, as European cities tend to have less urban sprawl than American cities and thus people have much less reliance on driving to get to and from bars, so even if the two had identical alcohol consumption patterns, the US would be overrepresented in this metric.

Culture is an inter-related web of choices. Perhaps higher rates of binge drinking aren't so bad is you design your society with features, such as reduced reliance on driving to get to and from bars, that make that conduct less harmful.

He doesn't seem to control for religion, SES, inequality, and relative alcohol prices. I'm sure he's not a complete moron, so he realizes these are relevant explanatory factors. So if you won't say it, I will: he's lying.

Surely you're not suggesting that alcohol is *cheaper* in Europe?

Basically, it is cheaper in Germany than in Virginia, at least over the last two decades.

yes, this can be summed up as "Teens that can legally drink and do so without stigma do so." If every weekend, the teens of a country have 5 beers over the course of an afternoon and evening, they are suddenly binge drinkers.

The issue with US teen drinking is the binge drinking to the point of blackout along with drunk driving. When both are drinking in a party atmosphere, it is still fair to say that most European teens do better than most US teens.

Are you actually saying that its no big deal for a teenager to go out and have 5 beers in an afternoon? That'll get you pretty drunk.
It would get me pretty drunk and I'm 37 and weigh 180. And this study seems to be saying that European kids get drunk more often than American ones, which is quite worrisome to me at least. Can't see how having a habit of getting drunk as a teenager leads to any good outcomes.

I see at least two statistical problems:

1. As a Northern European living in Southern Europe, I have to say that the drinking cultures in the areas are vastly different. Talking about a single "European" drinking culture makes no sense. In the North people typically drink to get drunk, in the South they don't and alcoholic beverages are seen as an integral part of a meal: you always eat when you drink and you generally drink when you eat.

2. The defenition of binge drinking here is four glasses of wine. Drinking that Northern European style - downing it in the space of an hour on an empty stomach - will get you drunk. Drinking it Souther European style - drinking it over the course of a solid two hour lunch or dinner - will not.

I've seen plenty of anecdotal evidence that Southern Europe also gets drunk. In fact, they may require more alcohol to it since they consume more alcohol on a regular basis.

As a Mexican who has lived in both in Mexico and the US, Spain and now in Finland, I can say that binge drinking (and alcoholism) is more of a European problem.

The problem in both Mexico and the US is trying to get people to eat healthier.

How is drinking less obviously "better"?

Depends on the quality of the company. Princess Margaret was notorious; then again, she'd been married to Lord Snowden.

I think the findings more likely indicate that American teens are less honest than their European counterparts

Fran Leibowitz offers this gem: "The French probably invented the whole notion of discretion. It's not that they think that what you don't know won't hurt you. It's that they think that what you don't know won't hurt them. To the French, lying is simply talking..."

Oh yeah, is there a lot of reason to believe that American teens under report alcohol consumption relative Euro teens? C'mon.

"Oh yeah, is there a lot of reason to believe that American teens under report alcohol consumption relative Euro teens?"

considering that, for them, drinking is illegal and one tends to underreport illegal activities even in anonimous questionnaires... yes, there is.

Actually, yes. In Germany, a 16 year old can legally buy beer and wine, and the police are unlikely to etremely unlikely to care about a 15 year with a beer bottle in their hand at a private party. In the U.S., a 16 year old has to wait five more years to be able to legally drink alcohol.

Further, the U.S. is filled with anti-alcohol messages, no tolerance policies, etc. There are major incentives for a typical American 16 year to lie (including whether they are members of a church that frowns on or forbids alcohol), none of which exist for a German 16 year old.

(Begin sarcasm) Because we all know, over there in Europe they're better than we are.

"European teens ages 15 to 19 tend to report greater levels of binge drinking than American teens."

This is obvious to anyone who's spent appreciable time in both Europe and America.

I agree. I am young enough to go out on the town every now and then, and I've done so in some of the major cities of Spain, France, Britain, as well as numerous cities in the Nordic countries.

This is anecdotal but probably still true: European youth gets bombed on weekends. And the further north you go, the more they get bombed.

I can only imagine what it is like in Russia or Poland and the Balts where the drinks of choice (necessity?) are hard liquor.

I studied in St. Petersburg when I was 19. Rule #1 in my study abroad program: Never get into a drinking contest with a Russian.

From what I recall, Russians drink the same amount of beer as the Belgians. Russians drink several times as much vodka as anyone else. However, the real hard-liquor champs are the South Koreans. The thing about Russia is that a standard shot is 100ml, so one drink is really 2+ drinks anywhere else, and self-reported data doesn't always reflect that.

As a Swede, and thus a competent binge drinker I have noticed that Americans usually are quite bad at drinking hard. That would indicate that they drink less and have less tolerance.

I'm not so sure that binge drinking really is that great of a problem as the authorities seem to think. Since the temperance movement failed to outlaw alcohol in the early 20th century there has been any number of suppressive policies from restrictions in distribution and high taxes, and total consumption did fall (even though it has recovered as Swedes added Continental wine habits on top of the hard liquor ).

But these policies have failed to make a dent in the time-honored culture of Nordic binge drinking, "supa".

That Britain is shot through with adolescent lushingtons is no surprise; the real question re Britian is how much blood the older generation has left in their alcohol stream. Iceland's not much of a surprise: terrible weather (and Greenland has a horrendous problem with alcohol). France is a surprise.

Spend more time in France. It's not surprising at all.

Agreed that Britain has a world-beating reputation in this characteristic.

Not been there in 35 years. As far as I could see, my contemporaries did not have a problem with the drink, even though you could buy wine in school cafeterias. Quite a number were haphazard about hygiene, though.

Yes, the one time I was in France, the lack of attention to personal hygiene in some quarters was startling to me.

I wonder what the results would look like if compared drinking rates by ethnic background in the US. Ex compare people of German descent in the US to people in Germany. It's possible that the US has more immigrants from cultures with lower drinking rates than Europe does so that brings down the overall consumption down. But people of say Danish descent in the US might drink more then they would in Denmark.

Unlikely. A more likely hypothesis is that the U.S. history of religiously motivated immigration reduces alcohol consumption together with fit immigrant considerations mean that U.S. residents generally drink less than in the homeland (Islamic countries excepted).

Considering that the higher consumption rates among teenagers are no doubt driven at least in part by greater access/opportunity, I'm skeptical that would dramatically alter the analysis.

Northern Europe has a similar drinking culture to the US, southern Europe not so much.

The evidence in this article suggests otherwise.

America's rate of teen drunkenness appears comparable to southern Europe and much lower than northern Europe.

The US result surprised me, but not the patterns within Europe.

Since when is safety the only appropriate measure of good policy?

* We'd be safer if we banned motorcycles.
* We'd be safer if motor vehicles and aircraft could only be operated by salaried professionals who took hourly breathalizer tests.
* We'd have fewer oxycontin ODs if we insisted that people suffer through the pain without drugs instead.
* We'd have fewer deaths is we banned pork.
* We'd be safer if skiing and waterskiing and rock climbing were prohibited.
* We'd have fewer maternal deaths if all pregnancies were aborted. This would eliminate the number of infant deaths per year too.
* We'd have fewer divorces if we abolished marriage.
* We'd be safer if we banned all guns by non-law enforcement.
* We'd be have fewer business bankruptcies if businesses could only be financed with equity and all purchases had to be made in cash.

No reduction of risk can be judged separate from the reward conferred.

"No reduction of risk can be judged separate from the reward conferred."

I agree with this and would also add that: No reduction of risk can be judged separate from the infringement of liberties it entails.

My choosing to not ride motorcycles, because of the danger, is far less "costly" in terms of infringement of liberties than not allowing someone else to ride motorcycles, because of the danger.

What's the reward of teenagers getting drunk habitually?

Primarily social acceptance & stress relief.

"What’s the reward of teenagers getting drunk habitually?"

Their parents have time to copulate, or read.

I am not sure Mormons really hit the mark on moderation. On the one hand Utah is low in alcohol consumption, on the other it is high on drug overdose. Clandestine deviance.

It's also #1 in per capita ice cream consumption. Take that, InBev!

'Clandestine deviance': another datapoint

I lived in Germany for several years (not on any army base or something similar). Germans definitely drink more, but I think they also have a much better drinking culture for young people. Willing to be persuaded, though. The stat I would look at is how many young people die in situations where alcohol is a factor per capita.

Is getting drunk with your parents better?


The danger of getting robbed, abused by 'a friend', or doing something to hurt yourself in another way is lower by magnitudes .

this is the case - the teens may drink more (and why wouldn't they when it is legally available in a culture that cherishes beer or wine?), but being gradually allowed more and more liberties with drink just leads them to handling it better. It's the culture of the cafe rather than the furtive house party.

Here is a website that has the death rate standardized by age.
It has Germany as having the 15th highest death rate from alcohol and the US at 39th. According to that site the US has a death rate from alcohol that is 36% lower.
I am not sure I believe that site totally since it has Ireland has only the 63rd highest death rate.

Sounds right, Ireland also has always had fewer drinking related diseases.

But do those numbers capture alcohol-related deaths under traffic fatalities, gunshots and other assault?

OK, let's talk about what the hell is going on with Denmark!!!

European teens more often admit to doing a legal thing than American teens admit to doing an illegal thing. Surprise!

I've always taken the 'better' European drinking culture to mean that they drink more, but do so more responsibly. I guess the implication here is that 'binge drinking' is equivalent to irresponsible drinking. I'd rather see comparisons of the rates of alcohol poisoning. And of course the biggest issue for Americans, drunk driving, is less of an issue in Europe regardless because they're less dependent on cars.

Or, more relevantly, the wisdom of Muslims.

Muslim is the Straussian meaning of Mormons, but can't be used openly because of mood affiliation.

... by zero-marginal product workers

My experience in Germany, at least, was that people were much more responsible about not driving drunk. Even young people. It's not that they didn't *get* drunk, they just took a cab home instead of driving.

...And it makes a huge difference, if public transit actually works right?

Is driving a car the only concern we have about teenagers getting drunk? The comments on this thread are very surprising.

In Belgium they remarked that U.S. DUI penalties are very severe and there they still have the mentality of giving you a ride home or slap on the wrist.

How do these rates vary by gender, and how much of that variation is due to what happens to intoxicated young women?

Europeans are less likely to drink to the point of vomiting or passing out.

No, reports for the last 10 years have been how they do this more often than in the US.

(actual) Binge drinking is a big think there.

I think you will find that this is quite mistaken.

Have you been in a metropolitan area in Northern Europe recently? I go to many, every year or two. (Granted, more in the summer than in winter, but I've lived there too.)

A famous image...

"Europeans" is meaningless in this (and many other) context.

There are huge differences between drinking cultures in Europe related on what (beer, wine, superalcholics), how (while eating or not), when (before going out, only once on is out), with whom (alone or strictly in company) and how much /till you are tipsy, till you are drunk, till you are sick, till you pass out).

It's darn hard to pass out by drinking wine while eating in a culture that still frowns about people being unable to hold a conversation with friends as it is the standard in Italy, while it's pretty common to see girls in a coma in the streets of most Scandinavian countries or UK over the weekend.

It seems like the almost post-American culture of Denmark is functioning the way it intends to: letting the youth run off on their long leash assuming that most people won't die. Similar to the line of parenting advice becoming more prevalent in the states; let the kids run around in the mud, they probably won't ruin themselves. The big question is wether a young like that can emerge from their extended youth and not ruin a small country. Polarizing fun & work - not very confuician

I think that parenting advice is getting less and less prevalent in the states. Nowadays it's all helicopter parents whereas 30 years ago it was let your kids out of the house and see them back at dinner time.

Mildly surprising, but a bit unhelpful given how broad "binge drinking" is.

Any evidence on alcohol related deaths (DWI//fetal alcohol syndrome/alcoholism) between US and EU or intra-US?

American teens have better access to lower cost and higher quality marijuana.

True Bro? I am definitely not sure about that one.

NA has a pot culture; Europe has traditionally had a hash culture. This may be changing.

The US consumes significantly more cannabis than any European country other than Czechia. European marijuana is so low quality that you get cases of adulteration with glass beads. The hypothesis is also supported on the state level, where binge drinking and cannabis consumption is strongly inversely correlated.

In Colorado, yes. In Alabama, not so much.

One thing i noticed in US, which strangely enough, was not mentioned by anyone in an economics blog: alcohol is freaking expensive in US, at least in bar or club. I think only Norway comes near.

Young people in the UK are way much drunker than in the US. I would be a much bigger problem if they had the same access to guns and cars as kids in the US.

Why are we presuming that more drinking is bad?

Visit a British city centre when the bars and pubs all close and you might get some insight.

Deleterious effects on the body and brain -- even amongst the "indestructible" demographic of 18-24, lol -- from ingesting of large amounts of a toxin?

There are also socio-economic disadvantages that I don't research (work absenteeism, under performance in the workplace, cost to the economy of dozy workers, etc).

Err... the point is, of course, how much would American teenager drink if that was not forbidden until you are 21?

The amazing thing is that an american teen apparently manages to drink as much (in some cases, twice as much, see Italy) as his European counterparts when facing legal obstacles. Wonder if he could just go into a bar and order drinks freely.

"Why are we presuming that more drinking is bad?"

Stop drinking and see. I quit drinking about eight years ago (I rarely had more than two drinks a night). There were almost immediate gains: sound sleep, absence of migraines, appearance-enhancing weight loss. These have been followed by growing sense of well-being, the disappearance of health concerns, and a steady buoyancy of mood. This general trend was sustained through the deaths of both parents, work shake-ups, and domestic crises at various levels of severity. Stopping drink is the only salient variable marking off the before and after. Everything else in my life is almost exactly the same -- same marriage, same job, same beliefs, same hobbies. I still hang out with people who drink. My wife and relations all drink plenty. But I wake up each morning feeling pretty good no matter what happened the night before, and think, gee, I would have paid a lot of money for all this well-being. And I got it for free. Not by doing something. But by not doing something.

Okay but for most people it is the opposite. Lower mortality for alcohol consumers

Simple answer: What these idiots call "binge drinking" all civilized people call "a pleasant dinner".

This just in: social science scolds are severe lightweights. And not just intellectually.

Presuming that all drinking is bad is actually A good indicator you're awkward.

Most Europeans can speak multiple languages. There is that. And most if tested we'll have university free. How does that correlate? ;)

My, there's a lot of abstemiousness here. It seems to be taken as a given that alcohol is bad and the 'better' drinking culture is the one that drinks less. Personally I prefer the European culture, and the US attitude to alcohol was one factor that put me off moving to the US. I'm an enthusiastic binge drinker, and have been since I was a teenager. I'm glad of a culture that facilitates my enthusiasm. Statistically it lowers my life expectancy a little, but so would abstaining entirely. I'm happy with the trade off; I'm otherwise very fit and healthy, and drinking doesn't interfere with my work or put others at risk, as is so often the case in the US where driving is the only mode of transport, so people drive drunk. People don't drink because they're addicts, misled or foolish. We drink because it's fun. It tastes nice (if you drink proper beer and decent wine) and makes us more affable.

I fail to see the problem in this case. European teens demand alcohol and have better access to it. Hence, they drink more. If it wasn't for the government, American alcohol market for teens would probably work better,too.

I saw little of this in the comments.

There was no discussion of the substitution effect, and the relative usage of alcohol versus other drugs. If alcohol is legal, and other drugs are not, then obviously you would have more people abuse alcohol than other drugs.

This creates a policy question, of whether you prefer alcohol abuse, or abuse of other kinds of substances. Of course, this highly depends on the substance. I think we clearly would prefer to see individuals drinking rather than using meth or heroin, but would we prefer them drinking to smoke marijuana? What are the side effects, and the addiction affects of these substances.

Personally, I have an issue with the voting, drafting, and other adult responsibilities coming at 18, and drinking not being allowed to 21, as it seems discriminatory...

In most European jurisdictions 16 is legal drinking age. In America it's 21.

So comparing drinking habbits of 15 to 19 year olds is silly. Compare 15 to 19 year olds in Europe to 20 to 24 year olds in America - then we are talking.

Is there actually a stereotype that the US had less safe drinking culture? I'm surprised because I'm ignorant of it.

I would've thought there were too many abstinent Puritans and Southern Baptists and the like (along with the weird individualistic and outward oriented religiosity), for the US to seriously have a higher level of drinking compared to Europeans (particularly the East).

The US I have seen only as having more of a problem with drunken fraternity morons than Europe (although the UK and shagaluf etc is pretty comparable). Despite the greater numbers of Americans teetotalers. Part of the US drinking culture being more linked to hedonism, individual / team competitiveness, and otherwise shallowly embedded in the general culture (probably true of many things in the US which are actually fun).

The great Lemmy Kilmeister of Motorhead, he said he couldn't remember the last time he had a hangover because he couldn't remember a time he wasn't at least partly drunk.
When he had diabetes as he got older and his doctor told him to cut out the jack-and-coke routine, as coke has sugar in it, he switched to what he called a healthier alternative - vodka with orange juice. What can I do, he reasoned, I'm from North England.

Just a side note: remember that scene in Pulp Fiction when Travolta's character was so surprised you could get a beer in an European McDonald's? I live in Europe and I've never seen anyone buy beer in fast foods. Also drinking in beer gardens with the whole family, children and all, does not result in chaos in Europe. Could it be that yes, there is more drinking here, and yes, there might be more health problems resulting, but not more social ones, compared to America?

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