Why Do Some Irish Drink So Much?

By Neuroskeptic | June 16, 2013 9:24 am

An interesting new paper asks Why Do Some Irish Drink So Much? (EDIT: please note, this is the actual title of the paper)

In a survey of students attending University College Dublin, (n=3500 respondents), the authors examined self-reported alcohol consumption. Participants also answered various questions about their family background and their place of origin, to allow the authors to investigate possible geographic influences.

It turned out that students from the Republic of Ireland drank more, on average, than international ones. Those Irish students are the focus of the rest of the study:

Perhaps surprisingly, most aspects of family background were not associated with student drinking:

We find relatively small effects of parental background variables on how much their college attending children drink. Neither father’s education, mothers’ age, whether a parent is still married, and parental incomes have any statistically significant effects on students’ drinking…

But there was one major exception – the amount a student’s parents and older siblings drank exerted a strong effect:

We find that drinking of mothers significantly impacts the number of drinks consumed by both female and male students about equally. But drinking of fathers appears only to influence drinking of their college attending sons… In addition, in our models parental drinking amounts have just as much influence on seniors as on freshmen at this school indicating no decay in the influence of parents drinking as a function of years attending college.

Estimated effects of sibling drinking are large and statistically significant and affect male and female students equally.

Boys who attended an all-boy’s school, or a boarding school, also went on to drink more in college.

The most interesting results, though, were in terms of geography. Roughly speaking, the regional influence of Catholicism was negatively correlated with drinking. For example, counties where voters supported legalizing divorce in the 1996 referendum (a move that was opposed by the Catholic Church) had higher drinking. Towns where more Masses took place per week produced students who drank less.

English cultural influence, however, meant more drinking: students from towns with a cricket club (this sport being, of course, English and so a marker of historical influence) drank more than those from places uncontaminated by bats and wickets.

There was no evidence, however, that the weather mattered: home town rainfall and temperature were not correlated with alcohol consumption. This counts against the idea (apparently a popular one) that Ireland drinks a lot because it’s rainy and there’s nothing else to do.

This is a nice study, although it does suffer from being a student sample and purely self-report. It’s also a useful reminder of the importance of not confusing correlation with causation. Living near a cricket club clearly doesn’t cause anyone to drink more. It’s a marker for other cultural factors, no less real, but hard to measure directly.

But it is easy to forget this, to see only the tangible tip of the iceberg and overlook the true causes beneath the surface.

ResearchBlogging.orgDelaney L, Kapteyn A, & Smith JP (2013). Why Do Some Irish Drink So Much? Family, Historical and Regional Effects on Students’ Alcohol Consumption and Subjective Normative Thresholds. Review of economics of the household, 11 (1), 1-27 PMID: 23662096

  • Ihatethemboth

    Why do some Irish drink so much? Why do some blacks eat so much fried chicken and watermelon?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Mark Beardsley

      Why do they? Where is the study that test black people and fried chicken and/or watermelon?

      • Tanya Applegate

        Fried chicken and watermelon do not have the detrimental effects of alcohol abuse, so you can understand why no one is following up on that stereotype.

        • GogogoStopSTOP

          Riiggghhhhtttttt… obesity is OK, just ask Nanny Boomberg. And remember, hands off the NaCl & no Big Gulps.

        • GogogoStopSTOP

          BTW, have you been to a grocery store lately & been rundown by the self-propelled “wheelchairs” used by the ever increasing obese slobs shopping for their daily trough of refined carbohydrates? They CAN’T even WALK!

      • GogogoStopSTOP

        Forget the fried chicken & watermelon… alcoholism is quite high in the Black community.

    • http://www.examiner.com/internet-and-technology-in-national/david-frankk David Frankk

      Why can’t Asians drive?

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

        Why do Some Commenters Troll So Much?

        • Buddy199

          You asked for it.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            No I didn’t, the authors did – that’s their actual title.

          • Buddy199

            I missed that. Good lord. Are they going to follow up with an analysis of why Koreans make the best dry cleaners?

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            Well, the authors are themselves Irish. So they get a free pass to say that. If they want to write about Koreans they’ll need to collaborate with some.

          • Sanjosemike

            Buddy199, I hope they do. At least it will be a clean sweep.

        • Ihatethemboth

          I wasn’t trolling, just trying to highlight how absurd the title was. I know my username might not help make that clear but it has nothing to do with my comment.

      • Sanjosemike

        Asians can’t drive, but it doesn’t make any difference. They can afford to hire the rest of us as their drivers.

        • http://www.examiner.com/internet-and-technology-in-national/david-frankk David Frankk

          Driving’s still better than doing laundry.

  • WommRomm

    Sounds like a pretty solid plan to me dude. Wow.


  • Chum Lee Jr

    Why do dogs lick their crotches? Because they can…

    • Sanjosemike

      Chum Lee, Jr. “To reach the unreachable dream…” (singing)

  • Jon Davis

    Did this take the current and past economic pressures into account when any comparisons were made? That may also have caused significant increases of drinking in current generations of college age adults.

  • Paul Armstong

    one a day sounds about right

    • Paul Shipley

      Yep sure does.

  • Liptonius

    I am surprised that no one explored the possibility that “Irish alcoholic beverages are really, really excellent!”

    Irish whiskey, even moderately priced ones are uniformly wonderful, and the beers and ales?

    I could see downing one or two a day, without question!

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      I agree about the whiskey. Not so fond of the beers. Guinness? Too thick. More soup than ale if you ask me.

      • Sean Dowling

        Guinness is a stout not an ale!!! BTW, drinking whiskey with Guinness is really really nice….just make sure you have nothing important to do for about 3 days afterwards.

        • Stephen Wirtz

          Stouts are ALES!

  • GogogoStopSTOP

    Alcoholic drinking has a “loose” connection to a few ethnic groups. Irish, American Indian, Japanese, Black, to name a few. It’s not a curse, it’s a happenstance of our genetic make up. The best way to face life is to accept our shortcomings, our cravings, delusions. Or, if you can’t face them, then you have a thinking problem, soooo… repeat after me: “Aum Mani Padme Hum.”

  • paw516

    cause it’s fun and social

  • Pythagoras

    Whoever picked the colors for the map MUST have been drunk. From lowest to highest alcohol consumption, the colors are yellow, green, red and blue, in that order. The map is completely not intuitive as a results.

    Way to walk a straight line through the rainbow!

  • Pingback: Occam's Razor Scooter | Monday Wrap Up: Dogocracy()

  • Sanjosemike

    Joke: “Two Irish guys left a bar”…ummm….I suppose it could happen.

    • emjaysun

      Yes, bejaysus, and that was the day that hell froze over.

  • emjaysun

    Maybe they drink so much to lessen the shock when they look in a mirror.

  • Joanne Williams

    LOL, so the Irish drink so much because of the English? Something else they can blame us for I guess…

  • Elizabeth Kelly

    Drinking socially and toasting is part of Irish culture. A party is not a party without drink. My father threw a 21st birthday party for me at which I had my first drink, It was like your 21 now its ok to drink. I had my FIRST drink at that party and then my second, etc., until I got drunk. That wasn’t his intention but nevertheless it happened. There was never a talk about consequences of drinking. Parents need to talk to their children about the consequences of drinking. If parents drink too much, they are teaching their children to do the same. Sober parents will likely have children that grow up without a drinking problem.



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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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