Marriage may drive a woman to drink, not because she's unhappy but because she's influenced by her husband's alcohol consumption, new research suggests. And men, on average, drink more than women.
Men, on the other hand, spend less time with their drinking buddies and more with their wives aftertying the knot. The result? Married men down fewer beers than their single counterparts.
The study, being presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver, Colo., also reveals divorced men are at particularly high risk of alcohol abuse.
Researchers have in the past investigated differences in drinking between single and married people, but the new study is the first to look at alcohol use among different types of unmarried people: the never-married, the divorced and the widowed. Sociologists from the University of Cincinnati,Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University and the University of Texas at Austin looked at longitudinal data from 5,305 men and women from Wisconsin who answered questionnaires about alcohol use in 1993 and then again 2004. The participants reported how many drinks they consumed in a month and whether they had any history of drinking problems. The researchers combined this quantitative data with 120 qualitative in-depth interviews of never-married, married, divorced and widowed men and women conducted over the past decade. [6 Scientific Tips for a Happy Marriage]
Previous studies have consistently shown that married people drink less than single people, with the anti-drinking association stronger in married men than women. The new study confirmed this relationship in men, but it showed that married women actually drink more on average than women who were never married, divorced or widowed. "Stable marriage curbs men's drinking yet is associated with a slightly higher level of alcohol use among women," the authors wrote in their paper on the study, which is not yet published.
Men and women also responded differently to divorce in terms of their drinking. Recently divorced men drank significantly more than men in long-term marriages, while women's alcohol consumption fell sharply after the dissolution of a marriage.
Drinking and Marriage
The interviews shed light on these patterns: Drinking habits during marriage are influenced by those of spouses — for better or for worse — whereas how much a person imbibes after a marriage ends has to do with their coping mechanisms, as well as the shedding of marital influence.
Men on average drink more than women, and this statistic plays out during marriage and divorce. Although men in the study still drank more than women during every life stage, the majority of men who were interviewed described three main reasons why marriage curbed their drinking: They spent less time with their drinking buddies; their wives drank less than they did; and their wives worked to limit how much they drank.
Most women reported starting to drink or drinking more during marriage because their husbands drank, and some of them said they enjoyed drinking together as a couple.