College Women Increasing Alcohol Consumption Based on Misconceptions

For generations, men could out-drink women. It was a product of the difference in size and often a difference in tolerance. Now, times seem to be changing as women are more and more challenging social norms, including the amount of liquor they can hold in one night.

Even though men still consume more alcohol than women, intake for the gentler sex has seen a steady increase over the past 30 years. As a result, a number of studies have been done to examine the influences causing women to drink more than they ever have before. A new study from LaBrie, Cail, Hummer, & Lac, 2009, explores the effects of reflective norms on the drinking behaviors of college women.

To complete the study, researchers examined 3,616 college students in a Web-based survey. Of the initial representative sample, 53.6 percent were from two west coast universities. Another 62 percent were female and 55 percent were White. This survey assessed perception of the amount male peers prefer females to drink; males’ report of how much they prefer females to drink; and females report of weekly alcohol consumption.

Perhaps the most surprising result from this study is that women greatly miss the mark on their perception of how much their male peers want them to drink. In fact, women significantly overestimate the amount as 71 percent estimated the preferred number of drinks to be more than the average male preference. Reflective norms in women correlated to their drinking behavior after controlling for demographics and perceived same-sex norms.

The study did have some limitations as it did rely on self reporting by students. It was also cross-sectional, which meant the research was not able to determine whether perceived norms influenced drinking or that drinking influenced perceived norms. Either way, it does indicate there is a common theme of unhealthy perceptions about alcohol consumption among college aged women.

The findings from this study suggest that women of college age are engaging in increased alcohol consumption simply because they believe their male peers prefer women to drink more. To add to this issue, women are also more likely than men to suffer sexual aggression while intoxicated, putting these women at an increased – and unnecessary – risk.

This study suggests there is a critical link between reducing violence against college women and correcting perceptions concerning alcohol consumption. No matter how equal women desire to be, men still overwhelmingly prefer women who do not try to match their habits and capabilities in every way. Equality should be born of intellect, not consumption.

Posted on April 14th, 2010
Posted in Young Adults

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