Saturday, 12 December 2015

"Middle class parents turn kids on to drink"

I was interested to read an article in The Independent that quoted a report about the health of young people with this headline: "Middle-class parents more likely to turn their children to alcohol". I looked up the report, which was published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (a government quango): it runs to 161 pages and covers all aspects of the health of young people, including drink, drugs, exercise, diet and so on. It is not a report solely about youthful drinking, although you wouldn't know that from the press coverage. The lines that caught the journalists' attention were:

Rates of drinking also varied by deprivation, with young people in the least deprived areas being more likely to have ever drunk alcohol than those in the most deprived areas (70% and 50% respectively).

There was an association between age of first drinking and frequency of drinking. Among those who had first had a drink at less than 10 years, 28 per cent were regular drinkers, while among those who had their first drink at age 15 or 16, 3 per cent were regular drinkers.

A regular drinker is defined in the report as someone who has at least one drink per week. The report defines various risky behaviours, and for alcohol this is described as at least one drink a month.

While there may be a correlation between the age of the first drink and the later level of drinking, suggesting this is because of parents giving children alcohol earlier might provide an explanation. However, it could be equally argued that in areas of deprivation there is logically going to be less disposable income to spend on alcohol, which might provide either an alternative or an additional explanation. It seems to me that suggesting middle class parents are the cause of the level of drinking later in life is less politically troublesome than suggesting that deprivation itself may the cause, with all the suggestions of social inequality that naturally follow. Provoking middle class angst is less controversial than talking about inequality.

It's an interesting finding, but as is often the case with such reports, the conclusions drawn by the press are overly simplistic and not entirely supported by what the report actually states.

1 comment:

  1. There seems to be a huge muddling of correlation and causation here. And is it such a bad thing that people become "regular drinkers" anyway?

    My guess would be that, if you looked at people who become alcoholics or have serious drink problems, there would be a strong correlation with coming from dysfunctional families, but a very weak one with when their parents gave them their first drink.

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