People of class drink alcohol

By Razib Khan | May 2, 2010 3:20 am

don-draperOn his twitter feed one Conor Friedersdorf made a comment about how beer unites people across the ideological spectrum. I raised my eyebrows at this, because I know that a substantial number of Southern white Protestants do not drink alcohol. With a name like Friedersdorf I suspect that Conor probably didn’t consider this because of the normative nature of beer consumption in his social circles. I’ve always meant to look into the differences in alcohol consumption by demographic because I’m sure you’ve seen all the medical “studies” which claim that drinking in moderation has benefits toward your health. The main concern I have is that a lot of these seem to be correlational studies (though not all), and there are also often conflicts of interest with the funding (the alcoholic beverage industry is naturally happy to front the cash to pursue research so as to make the correlation firmer in the public mind). Now, I have nothing against alcohol personally, I like dark beers and white wines. But I’m a little skeptical when people promote health benefits of a class of product with which a non-trivial minority of the population have substance abuse issues.

To sate my curiosity, I decided to look at the GSS. So you can replicate, here are my variables:

Row: Drink

Column: Year Race Sex Region God(r:1-3″Non-theist”;4-5″Believe, But Doubts”;6″Know God Exists”) Relig Polviews Degree Wordsum

Some of the variables are obvious, but in regards to the somewhat garbled gibberishy looking section I “recoded” it  so as to combine classes with very small N’s and such. Since you have the variable names you can follow up and see what I did if you’re curious.

Here are some results….

Not too much change over the years.

drinkyear

Now, some demographic variables of interest. Not too surprising. I knew that blacks were more likely to be teetotalers, and expected that women would be as well. Note the big difference by religion.

drinkdemcat

As I said, people in the South are less likely to drink. This partly tracks religion, but I’ve poked around these particular data and in New England both Catholics and Protestants drink a fair amount, so it is a regional Protestant subculture which is fostering teetotaling (here are the labels geographically by the way).

drinkregion

Some more variables, though note the spectrum. The conservative tendency toward teetotaling probably has something to do with the correlates of extreme conservatism (higher religiosity, tendency to live in the South, be Protestant, etc.). Keep an eye on the education though….

drinkideology

This chart pretty much floored me.

drinkwordsum

I was expecting it. That is, that the more intelligent, who scored high on a vocabulary test, would drink more than the dumb, who scored low. Look at the other correlates above. But I’ve rarely seen such a stark near-monotonic trend with Wordsum.

You can try to control for variables. Race doesn’t matter much for what it’s worth, the trends stay pretty much the same if you constrain to whites. I decided to check the “Bible” variable, which measures literal interpretation. As expected controlling for fundamentalism eliminates much of the Protestant vs. non-Protestant difference, as well as exacerbates the sex difference (fundamentalist women are much more teetotaling than men), but it really didn’t effect the rank relation on many categories. The regional and Wordsum difference remains even among those who are fundamentalists or irreligious. I think this points to the social aspect of drinking. Even if you like to drink, if you’re circle of acquaintances tends not to, you won’t get a chance to drink as much. Conversely, if drinking is expected, there’s more pressure to bend your norms to please your friends.

Anyway, just be careful of studies extolling the virtues of alcohol unless they control for confounds. It’s just a fact that stupid people tend to die earlier, because they often make life decisions in keeping with their nature.

Image Credit: AMC

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis, GSS
  • dave chamberlin

    I’m scrolling down and the first thing i read is “this one pretty much floored me.” Then I scroll down farther staring at that last wordsum chart and just burst out laughing, it’s incredible. A toast to Razib is in order.

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  • trajan23

    Razib, are there any studies on drinking in academia? Gregory Benford once mentioned that academics in the “hard” sciences (math, physics, etc.) have much lower drinking rates than their counterparts in the Humanities. I have certainly observed a lot of heavy drinking among the faculty members in my department (English Lit).

    On a personal note, I seem to be one of those exceptions that prove the rule:

    Wordsum score: 10
    Educational level: Graduate student
    Geographical origins:California
    Politics:Conservative
    Religion:Atheist/Agnostic (Jewish mother, Episcopalian father)
    Drinker:Teetotal/Abstainer

  • http://haquelebac.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/my-fossil-railroad/ John Emerson

    I recommend “The Alcoholic Republic”, which is a history of the patterns of alcohol use in the US. There’s been a long term tendency to alternate hard or very hard drinking with temperance and abstention. (This seems much like the Irish and Scandinavian patterns).

    Someone might be able to fine-tune it by comparing liturgical churches in a group (Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Orthodox) to the non-liturgical churches (almost all Anglo-Saxon).

    Ethnically, a look at Germany would be interesting. My understanding is that German temperance movements have been few and weak and that many of them allowed beer drinking (as did some early American temperance advocates; this is actually consistent with the word “temperance”, which need not mean abstention).

    Prohibitionism was very strong among Northern Anglo Protestants until at least the 1920s and was associated with nativism and anti-Catholicism, so much so that some Catholic priests refused to consider moonshining and bootlegging a sin at all and told their parishioners not to stop confessing it. The KKK was prohibitionist, but so were many leftwing groups and most feminists and suffragettes.

    The Primitive Baptists (“Hardshell Baptists”) forbade temperance oaths, and many of them engaged in moonshining.

    People claim that drinking and high intelligence are not causally related, but I remain skeptical. I think that the habit of sobriety destroys brain cells. Likewise, if you looked at the relative accomplishments of Islam and Christendom over the last 1000 years, you’d probably want to include subsidized vodka in Middle Eastern development plans.

  • http://www.amerika.org/ Brett Stevens

    It would be interesting to see how these patterns change throughout life. In my experience, much of Generation X are becoming non-drinkers as they hit their mid-30s.

    Do you have any stats on marijuana use and intelligence?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: hard drugs, the direction seems the other way.

    variables: EVIDU HLTH5

    confidence interval high though.

  • Divalent

    How much can you trust the responses by the southern protestants? (A joke I heard many years ago: “How do you keep your So Baptist fishing-buddy from consuming all your beer on a fishing trip? Ans: Invite along another Baptist.) IOW, for some people you have categorized, the questions is about something that is not merely a neutral life-style choice.

  • Aditya

    Alcohol = greed. As simple as that. Intelligent people can be very greedy too. The opposite of greed is sacrifice and compassion (which is in fact, a much longer term greed, hence better). Now, I’m not very religious. In fact the kind of oppressiveness practiced by many religions is another form of greed through self-importance. But I don’t find the culture of alcoholism pretty. It’s correlated with all sorts of predatory behaviour. I don’t even need to draw graphs to know that. “Classy” people may drink alcohol. But such classy people only exemplify traits like a big-ego. That is still very short-sighted compared to compassion and sacrifice. So who is more classy then?

  • Sam

    The correlation of wordsum score to % of drinkers might be associated with the disintegration of the newspaper/journalism industry?

  • dave chamberlin

    My work in construction management has given me the unenviable experience of working with hundreds of truly stupid people over the last three decades. It is extremely common for them to go through a life pattern of out of control partying when they are young followed by “getting saved” by religion and staying sober thereafter. Being just my perception is scientifically meaningless but it points to looking further into why people don’t drink at all. Are they ex alcoholics? Were they taumatized because one of their parents were? Do they live in a slice of society where alcohol abuse is so common they shun it?

  • Jason Malloy

    There is a lot of fashionable yap about how successful outcomes are due to successful culture, but the truth seems to be that people with lower IQs (including blacks and religious whites) actually have higher character and hew to a stricter set of cultural values to keep out of trouble.

    Blacks actually work harder than whites to do good in school, and poor whites actually work harder than upper class whites to stay on the wagon, because they have less genetic resources to manage the negative consequences.

    In turn, the intelligent wage a misguided “egalitarian” war on the unintelligent by belittling and undermining the cultural structures the unintelligent rely on much more heavily for success. One example being how America’s asexual aristocracy moralize and glamorize laissez faire sexuality. The lower-to-middle classes cultivate a prudish morality towards sex as a kind of cultural buffer, because they are much more likely to succumb to sexual temptations in a dangerous impulsive manner.

  • punk

    Of course intelligent people would drink more. Too much knowledge of how the world and life in general works isn’t exactly a good thing…

  • bioIgnoramus

    When the dons of Oxford meet after dinner in their Common Rooms, it isn’t to toast marshmallows.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    just an fyi, i did a quick & dirty logistic regression. looks like “bible,” the variable which tells you attitudes toward scripture (fundamentalism) is the big predictor. educational attainment and WORDSUM still seem to have independent and significant effects too. the sex and socioeconomic difference pretty much disappears once you control for these issues.

  • Denise

    I cannot believe the comments left here…”blacks actually work harder….” or how about “poor whites…less genetic resources…” !!!!!!!! Uh, let’s talk education and IQ levels again… oy vey! People never recognize themselves in these so called studies!

  • engineer

    i’m in engineering at a university known for its sciences, and with the exception of the arts kids that are just here to party the engineers seem to drink to most of anyone

  • Chris

    Nice skew on the graphs. In attempting to exaggerate your point, you cut off the bottom of all of those bar graphs except the last one by 40-50%. That’s classic vertical axis manipulation and deceptive.

    Republish your page with proper bar graphs that start at zero, and then let’s talk.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    and then let’s talk.

    no, i’d rather not. lol.

  • http://haquelebac.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/my-fossil-railroad/ John Emerson

    Quite awhile back I read a book called “The Natural History of Alcoholism”, based on a careful long-term study of alcoholics and control groups. As I remember, one of the results reported was that light drinkers were in general better off both mentally and physically then teetotallers. However, it was also suggested that this may have been because people who don’t drink at all might be not doing so for reasons indicative of problems. The obvious case was people under doctor’s orders not to drink because of medical problems. The less obvious case was people who didn’t dare drink because they didn’t trust themselves, were filled with anxiety, or had had bad experiences with excessive drinking and quit drinking for that reason.

    Hopefully the studies showing that light drinking is good for you have taken these factors in account. I’m always suspicious of studies lumping large groups on the basis of a single factor and then drawing conclusions. Even though people doing such studies always try to control for various kinds of interference, it’s not possible to be sure that everything has been controlled for or even that the supposed controls really worked.

  • John Gleasen

    Another interesting variable I’d like to see plotted is latitude.

    My hypothesis is that northerly latitudes induce heavier drinking through Seasonal Affective Disorder and Vitamin D deficiency.

  • Melykin

    “i’m in engineering at a university known for its sciences, and with the exception of the arts kids that are just here to party the engineers seem to drink to most of anyone.”
    =======================================

    Forestry (my husband’s field) is like that too. In the pure sciences I don’t think there is near as much drinking. Law, I’ve heard, has a lot of heavy drinkers.

  • http://vividprodigy.com Nellie Nikolov

    I’ll believe the conclusion the moment I believe that only 66% of women drink alcohol.

  • Chris

    Razib, you need to exhibit a bit more professionalism in your responses and in the way you incorrectly portrayed data. I didn’t even attack or contest your baseline conclusions, but cheeky replies like yours combined with the aforementioned issues serve no purpose other than to diminish your legitimacy on this matter further.

  • dietbrisk

    you missed something important. income, wealth.

    more than likely, the wordsum correlation correlates highly with income. and, with less wealth, these folk cannot purchase and thus consume alcohol.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    chris, i don’t have any legitimacy. i provided you the link and variables to replicate the findings and do your own graphic representation within 5 minutes (actually you can replicate the raw results in 15 seconds by clicking & cutting & pasting). instead of actually taking the variables and controlling people just jaw-jaw. figures. as it is, i spent no more than 30 minutes on the whole post. it’s not a study, it’s an examination of a correlation i did in the middle of the night on a lark.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    more than likely, the wordsum correlation correlates highly with income. and, with less wealth, these folk cannot purchase and thus consume alcohol.

    no. there is an INCOME variable. controlling for income (albeit, it is a coarse one) WORDSUM still has a rough trendline where the smart drink more (though sample size is smaller so it is noisier). BIBLE (how fundamentalist you are about the Bible) is a much better control than income.

  • http://haquelebac.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/my-fossil-railroad/ John Emerson

    “With less wealth, these folk cannot purchase and thus consume alcohol.”

    Very few are so poor that they can’t afford beer. There’s one pattern of heavy drinking that doesn’t show up in the stats, which is people who can afford to drink a lot but can’t afford more expensive forms of entertainment.

  • http://anyall.org Brendan

    Link to the SDA software is totally awesome.

  • max

    It’s inappropriate to correlate vocabulary with general intelligence, as you do after the wordsum graph.

  • Moses Hong

    John, this is true. Just as all can afford alcohol, we are one of the few countries where the poor eat the most and the highest amount of calories – very few poor Americans go to bed hungry, they just go to bed without eating good, healthy food. Even the poorest among us can afford a $5 3,500 calorie high-fat extra value meal.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ Bee

    Haha. Here’s why: It’s damned painful to be intelligent in a dumb society. So you try to dumb down.

  • toto

    how America’s asexual aristocracy moralize and glamorize laissez faire sexuality.

    From what I gathered about the sexual history of American presidents, I’m pretty sure that it’s the other way round. :)

  • Actow

    Hey Razib Khan. Where is the data on Muslims?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    actow, no idea.

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  • http://tlb.org Trevor Blackwell

    Are you sure you’re controlling for age? One way to get the trend in the wordsum vs. drinking graph would be to include children, who have smaller vocabularies and don’t drink so they bring the average down on the left. The cleanest solution might be to only include people 30-50.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    1) GSS has no one under 18 in it that i can tell

    2) constraining 30-50 for wordsum makes no difference except at 0 out of 10, but i think that’s noise cuz the N is really small. click the GSS link and enter in age(30-50) in ‘selection filter’ to replicate.

  • http://olifante.blogs.com olifante

    Just because Chris used an insulting and condescending tone doesn’t mean he hasn’t got a point. The first thing I noticed when looking at your graphs was that they were not zero-based. It DOES completely distort the picture and detract from the rest of your interesting post.

  • dave chamberlin

    Bee says “It’s damn painful to be intellegent in a dumb society, so you try to dumb down”

    Yea, well it’s a hell of a lot better than being a poor dumbshit trying to get by and make sense of a confusing complex world. Don’t lose your compassion for all those people born with bad mental vision, look deep into their eyes the next time you say something that goes right over their head, there is boiling anger there. Take away their simple ideologies, take away their hopes for the good life, the chance of upward mobility because of hard work, and the shit hits the fan.

  • AG

    Some how I believe the study since I am beer/liquor guy (self-serving literally-double meaning here)

  • Mike

    Wow seriously. I think the sample set here is really skewed. I could show you some neighborhoods in Syracuse (or any American city for that matter) where the correlation between “likelihood of drinking” and the WORDSUM score are inversely related.

  • Scott

    Read the graph instead of looking at the pretty pictures. It’s not hard to see that it doesn’t start at zero and figure out what it means. Sheesh.

  • bioIgnoramus

    It’s a long time since I glanced at the Bible, but my memory is that it was fairly pro-wine. So the Fundamentalists would seem to be ignoring their God’s advice.

  • CB

    The statement: “I was expecting it. That is, that the more intelligent, who scored high on a vocabulary test, would drink more than the dumb, who scored low” is not supported by the data.

    At best they are more likely to drink, the amount (more) is not polled.

    I am sure the trailer-park residents would agree with you.

  • Steve M

    Interesting data, though your charts, and clarity, suffer from your adjustment of the range.

    The baseline percentage changes from category to category, exacerbating differences in each chart, and making chart to chart comparisons difficult. It also has the effect of making the Eastern South region and Extremely Religious categories appear as though no one drinks, when in fact they are both near 50%.

    I can’t tell if this was your intent, but the changing Y-axis range seems like an attempt to sensationalize differences that aren’t as big as they appear in your charts. The data would still support your claims without these alterations, though it wouldn’t seem quite as extreme to the casual observer.

    You may want to refer to Edward Tufte (edwardtufte.com) on presenting information, to prevent these issues.

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  • Mike

    As has been pointed out, Christianity is not anti-alcohol (wine even has a place in the central rite of the religion). Pointing to strange Christian sects that eschew it doesn’t change that fact. It might not be unimportant that this study has been done in a “Western” country (i.e. one with a culture greatly influenced by Christianity).

    What would be interesting would be to see figures for a society where alcohol is available but is also frowned on by the religion that’s helped form the culture. A Buddhist society would make the most obvious comparison. Would the correlation between vocabulary test score and drinking found in the U.S. also be found in, say, Bhutan or Thailand? It would be interesting to know.

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  • Sam Foster

    Any chance the numbers for certain regions are skewed by people fibbing about how much they drink?

    I’ve been to the Tennessee and NW Georgia and the people I was with were all drinking even though they were conservative and hyper-religious.

  • Pete

    Wordsum scores would increase with higher education (we would hope), and I would argue that university and college socialization dramatically increases a “culture of alcohol”. The “intelligence” and alcohol connection is likely nul. In addition, I would wager that Wordsum scores, and alcohol consumption for that matter, would correlate highly with suicide (writers).

  • Carl

    @Dave Chamberlin
    I would disagree about the “people of average/low intelligence” (The premise I’m jumping in on is intelligent people are rare and dumb society is the masses)

    To illustrate, take a room full of idiots, and one intelligent person, and have them discuss something. The idiots will all agree that the odd man out is stupid and doesn’t make any sense. They will confirm to each other that he doesn’t have any common sense and just spews gibberish and nonsense. Especially if an important decision must be made, it’s a painful experience for the man who understands the problem, and can even communicate a brilliant solution, but is ignored and ridiculed. I think this is what Bee was getting at.

    There isn’t anger and confusion for the dumb because there is consensus that their simple ideologies are smart and sound. Their blunders seem unavoidable, and their confusion is only at seeing people they consider idiots doing well. (Which I guess does lead to anger because “common sense” tells them these successful gibberish spouting people must be exploiting them somehow, how else could they be doing so much better then they are?)

    But honestly, as perversely satisfying as this kind of discourse is, it’s completely anecdotal and essentially meaningless. I need a drink.

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  • AG

    “Wordsum scores, and alcohol consumption for that matter, would correlate highly with suicide (writers”

    It has well estabolished that suicide rate is correlated with IQ. Only smart is able to commit suicide. Dumb creature will never end life on its own.

    WHO has data which also national suicide rate is correlated with national IQ.

  • no

    “I was expecting it. That is, that the more intelligent, who scored high on a vocabulary test, would drink more than the dumb, who scored low. ”

    All this tells me is that people that score higher on vocabulary tests drink more. You can make me a causal connection to intelligence, but as an English as second language speaker and writer I take umbrage at the “high vocabulary” = “intelligence” connection.

  • Anthony

    Add geologists to the list that includes engineers and foresters. And it is not just here in Australia:

    “Why Geologists Love Beer”
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/12/15943/

    One of many interview quotes:

    “Science doesn’t work when people keep secrets and don’t share their data,” said Daniel Jaffe of the University of Washington. ”And what could be better to help with the free flow of information?”

  • http://www.offtopiccraic.com Joy

    Very interesting read, as were all the comments! Has given me food for thought… or do I mean drink for thought?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    re: education. the only group which as a big WORDSUM spread are those with high school educations, and the trend is still evident. though mitigated a bit.

    row: drink
    column: wordsum
    control:degree

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    follow up #58, i think it has to do with socialization. a person with only HS education is likely to be married with someone with a college education if they’re smarter (i.e., higher Wordsum).

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  • Frank Rizzo

    I stopped reading when there was a graph with a label “Know God exists”.

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  • http://qtp.blogspot.com Sachin

    I wonder if hardcore drinkers will read this or not….

  • Dean

    I think the first chart really shows a post-disco-era drop off of the baby boomers who are the “pig in a python” bump in nearly every age bracketed study you care to conduct.

  • Drew Fark

    You can not have anal sex without alcohol.

    So I guess Alcohol is a gift from GOD ?

  • Carniphage

    Who has the largest vocabulary?
    Who drinks the most in the world?
    Two words:
    Christopher Hitchens

    C.

  • haydesigner

    “That’s classic vertical axis manipulation and deceptive.”

    I completely agree… as a visual communicator and designer, this has long been one of my pet peeves.

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  • dhd

    Way up there, someone said:

    I think that the habit of sobriety destroys brain cells. Likewise, if you looked at the relative accomplishments of Islam and Christendom over the last 1000 years, you’d probably want to include subsidized vodka in Middle Eastern development plans.

    I think you might need to narrow your time frame to 500 years if you really want to make that argument.

    On the other hand, there’s a kernel of truth here, in that the golden age of Islamic civilization featured a pretty liberal attitude towards alcohol, particularly outside the Arabian peninsula. Alcohol consumption is pretty deeply embedded in Persian and Turkish culture, much to the annoyance of the current regime in Iran…

  • http://thegreatgodpanisdead.blogspot.com/ RWB

    “follow up #58, i think it has to do with socialization. a person with only HS education is likely to be married with someone with a college education if they’re smarter (i.e., higher Wordsum).”

    I think you might be onto something here. There is research on vocabulary acquisition that suggests that people who talk a lot (and read a lot) have bigger vocabularies. That’s why parents are encouraged to talk a lot to their very young children and to read aloud. So people who score higher on spelling tests would likely include people who engage in lots of conversation with a wide variety of people, and who read a lot. I’m not sure how the “read a lot” could lead to more drinking, but the “engaging in conversation” might reflect people who are highly social–and highly social people probably have more opportunities to drink.

  • sezme

    I’m not sure if that dip in 1984-86 is the effect of baby boomers aging so much as the adoption of the “National Minimum Drinking Age Act” which took full effect in most states by 1986.

    Basically, in a period of 3-4 years, drinking between ages 18-20 (prime drinking years, I would say) was outlawed across nearly the entire country, although it was already 20 or 21 in a few states. While I’m sure that many young people find ways to drink nonetheless, it certainly had an effect on national rates, and probably a lasting effect throughout the lifetimes of many of those those who never got into the habit of drinking before age 21.

  • church lady

    Alcohol is non-essential.

    Alcohol costs money.

    Good alcohol costs good money.

    People enjoy good alcohol better than bad alcohol.

    People do things they enjoy more than things they don’t enjoy.

    Money is linked to education.

    I think anyone can do the rest of the math.

  • sara

    From Robert Stone’s great Vietnam era novel Dog Soldiers:

    “You see, in a world where elephants are pursued by flying men, people are just naturally going to want to get high…'”

  • LocalStain

    For an extremely enlightening look at the some of the cultural and political directives that influence the above charts see “Drink: A Social History of America” by Andrew Barr. http://www.amazon.com/Drink-History-America-Andrew-Barr/dp/075675321X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272989001&sr=8-1 An enlightening book to say the least.

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  • goatchowder

    But is WORDSUM an intelligence test or a vocabulary test? They are different things.

    Did you run this against, say, mathematical tests, to see if it correlates? To people good at mathematics, or spacial/visual thinking, tend towards drinking also? Then I might buy the “intelligence” thing. But I think there might be something else going on here.

    I’ve noted for decades that the best writers and poets tend to be alcoholics. It’s uncanny.

    Perhaps there is some connection between verbal skills and alcohol consumption, or between verbal thinking and a certain kind of torment or neurosis that begs for self-medication with alcohol, or, perhaps even, a feature of the chemical alcohol that increases verbal acuity and ability in the brain? I’d want more than correlational studies of those, though.

  • M Wms

    Not sure if comparable data exists, but I’d like to see comparison of U.S. drinking stats with those of Europeans.

    Also, as someone else mentioned above, “drinks” (vs. “doesn’t drink”) doesn’t tell you anything about how much, which would also be interesting to correlate with these other factors.

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  • Anonnie Muss

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but is this data regarding who drinks self-reported or did someone actually follow around and closely observe thousands and thousands of people of various religions, living in various regions? If it’s the former I can’t imagine why anyone would consider it reliable. I am willing to believe that people who identify themselves as conservative or extremely conservative and/or religious or very religious would feel it is important to *say* that they don’t drink — but as to whether they actually do or don’t, I don’t see how their word could be regarded as being statistically meaningful. Particularly in the context of an anonymous survey, and particularly when those responding to it can be certain that no one is ever going to be able to verify their self-reported answer. It seems inordinately trusting, naive and unworldly to treat such data as meaningful.

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  • http://blog.whybird.net/ Mark Whybird

    Clearly we need to stop educationg our children! The evidence shows it makse them drinkers!

    ;-)

    http://blog.whybird.net/post/572868189/omg-dont-teach-your-kids-to-read-it-will-drive

  • ginger

    Anonnie Muss @82 – you probably couldn’t rely very well on studies based on observers who tested their subjects and then stalked them through the local bars and bottle shops to find out how much they *really* drink. Reported alcohol consumption is commonly accepted to provide underestimates, but what matters is whether the underestimate is consistent across groups. With religions, this is potentially a problem – people whose religion condemns drinking alcohol might be more likely to underreport than people whose religion welcomes same. Me, I can’t come up with a reason that people who score high on WORDSUM would underestimate their consumption less than people who score low. If the degree of inaccuracy is the same in both groups, then the difference will look about the same.

    Alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are commonly measured by self-report. Occasionally reported cigarette data are validated using salivary cotinine samples, but most of the time epidemiologists throw up their hands and acknowledge that underestimation goes with the territory. We’re not so much “inordinately trusting, naive and unworldly” as limited by the realities of observational data.

  • jesuguru

    It makes little sense to question the honesty of religious people in an *anonymous* survey who say they don’t drink (presumably) because of perceived sinfulness, as most religious people in the West have equally strong religious qualms about lying. Such doubt seems to speak more to the apparent bias of the skeptic than to the likely deceitfulness of specific survey participants.

    Also, re: intelligence correlation, I’d like to see a retake of wordsum for drinkers in later years juxtaposed with earlier years, considering increasing evidence that even moderate alcohol consumption shrinks the brain.

  • Academic Teetotaler

    Don’t get too caught up with this study.

    I’m a teetotaler from a Protestant family in the south-central US.

    I scored in the 90th percentile for the GMAT (standardized graduate exam for business)
    I have a 3.9 GPA in my accredited undergraduate program for accounting.
    I have a 3.9 GPA in my accredited and ranked graduate MBA program.
    I passed the CPA exam.
    I read several dozen books a year from a variety of genres.
    I received criticism for setting the bar higher than my drinking classmates can reach.

    According to this study, I am an outlier. I think I know what makes the difference:

    I spent the time reading and writing that most people spend partying or at bars.
    I spent the money improving my health that most people spend buying alcohol.
    I avoided social molding where most stress over fairweather friends.

    I don’t know what the other teetotalers are doing… if they’re caught up with money or health issues that prevent them from drinking or just plain stupid, but I have found the lifestyle to be a strong competitive advantage in the academic world.

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  • Kait

    How is it that no one has brought up the obvious fallacy that these trends show who drinks “more”. The data is the percentage of people who answered “yes” when asked if they drink alcohol. This says nothing about whether these folks drink more or less. You could have one drink a year and still answer yes to that question.

    This leaves very few reasonable conclusions. One, there is a strong correlation between people of religious conviction, especially protestants in the south east, and ABSTAINING. One could also say there is a strong correlation between those who don’t drink and those who identify themselves as “knowing” God exists. NOTE, this does not suggest a causal connection. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably not comment about statistics. Two, there is a strong correlation between a person’s verbal score and whether the person drinks. Again, this is NOT saying that those who score higher are more likely to drink MORE it’s saying that those that score higher are more likely to drink, i.e. less likely to ABSTAIN. See @John Emerson’s comments for some interesting theories, but these are theories. Also see @dave chamberlin’s comments for some reasons why those with bad childhoods may be more likely to abstain and find God.

    Looking at the data, those who recognized more words were more likely to be MODERATE drinkers. Those who confessed to 20+drinks in a sitting were more likely to get the word wrong.

  • Dave

    “if you’re circle of acquaintances tends not to”
    So, what was your Wordsum score?

    Kait makes a good point. If I were asked, I’d say yes I drink. In truth I consume about one glass of wine a month.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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