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Drinking Habits

Alcohol Consumption by Generation: What Are the Trends?

August 3, 2023
12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 3, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 3, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
August 3, 2023
12 min read

Every generation is marked by different characteristics — from cultural attitudes and mindsets to food preferences and parenting styles. For many generations, alcohol has played a dominant role in our culture, shaping the way we socialize, celebrate, and have fun. Interestingly, attitudes towards drinking and drinking habits have started to shift among younger generations. So do millennials drink more alcohol than their younger counterparts? And which generation drinks the most? Let’s take a look at differences in alcohol consumption by generation.

Generation Z 

Older zoomers’ social lives look a lot different than other generations. Those currently in their early twenties might look around at their friends and wonder, “Are we the most sober generation?” Generation Z, or those born between 1997-2012, are, indeed, drinking less than young people in past generations. In fact, according to a 2018 report, Gen Zers are drinking about 20% less alcohol per capita than millennials did at their age. And 64% of them said they expected to drink less frequently when they grow older than the older generations do now. 

Gen Zers are also spending less money on alcohol than any generation before them. A Gallup Poll found that Gen Zers spent 40% less on alcohol than other generations in 2021 and made 5 fewer trips to the liquor store. 

And many zoomers are actually forgoing alcohol entirely. One study found that the share of college-age adults abstaining from alcohol has grown from 20 to 28% over the last two decades. 

This shift away from alcohol stems in part from an increased awareness of the risks that come with drinking — from poor decision making to addiction and adverse health effects. In fact, social media has played a big role in educating this generation about both the short- and long-term consequences of drinking. Interestingly, reports indicate that many are also forgoing alcohol due to fears related to losing control while drunk and having evidence shared on Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook.

Generation Z also prioritizes wellness, both mental and physical, more than generations past, which has also contributed to a decline in drinking. According to one survey, half of Gen Zers work out, compared to just 45% of other generations. 

For those who do drink, however, their tastes have changed from previous generations. In fact, they are the first generation to prefer other alcoholic drinks to beer, particularly malt beverages. 

As for the reason they’d choose to drink, many of them cite drinking for special occasions and to feel comfortable around people. However, only 58% of Gen Z consider going out to bars and restaurants “an important part” of how they socialize, compared to 65% of millennials. 

Furthermore, Generation Z has been labeled the “sober curious” generation, referring to a movement geared toward becoming more mindful of drinking habits and embracing sobriety as a positive social and personal choice. 

Interestingly, the decline in drinking among zoomers has been so pronounced that it’s led to an explosion in the non-alcoholic beverage market. Non-alcoholic beer sales have grown by nearly 4% on average for the past five years. Similarly, non-alcoholic brews are the fastest-growing segment in the beer industry. Non-alcoholic cocktails are also on the rise, and mocktail bars have started to spring up in cities around the country.

Generation Y: The Millennials

Do millennials drink more alcohol than Gen Zers? The millennials, also known as “Gen Y,” are those born between 1981-1996. While Gen Zers drink less than millennials, millennials are also drinking less than previous generations, including Baby Boomers and Generation X.

However, the number of millennials consuming alcohol is still high. Research shows that 53% of millennials said they consumed alcohol in the past month. Furthermore, millennials remain the major drivers of the global alcoholic beverages market, leading the 12% rise in global alcohol consumption after COVID-19. 

They are also among the highest spenders on wine. In fact, red wine is the top drinking choice for nearly a quarter of female millennials, whereas white wine is the beverage of choice for about a fifth. One report noted that millennials consumed about 160 million cases of wine in 2015 alone.

Craft beer is also incredibly popular among this generation, particularly among males. In fact, one survey indicates that 57% of millennials say they drink craft beer weekly. This is likely due to millennials’ preference of supporting brands they trust, valuing authenticity, and expressing their individuality. 

Millennials are most likely to drink for social reasons, citing going out to bars and restaurants as an “important part” of how they socialize. Interestingly, one study noted that while preparing for a first date, over 50% of millennials say they have 1-2 drinks.

Generational alcohol consumption: A visual comparison of drinking habits among different age groups, showcasing varying levels of alcohol intake

Generation X

Generation X — those born between 1965 and 1980 — are heavier drinkers than Gen Zers and millennials. Research indicates that the percentage of Gen Xers who reported drinking alcohol in the past month increased from 56% in 2002 to 60% in 2014. More recently, studies show that 65% of Gen Xers consumed alcohol in the past month, compared with 53% of millennials. 

Similar to millennials, Generation X has a strong preference for wine. In fact, they purchase more wine than any other generation, including Baby Boomers (who traditionally were top wine drinkers). One study found that Gen Xers are the largest consumers of wine in the United States, with 48% of Gen Xers reporting that they drink wine at least once a month. 

Unlike millennials, however, they are less concerned with industry trends and make purchases based on their established tastes and preferences. They tend to value luxury and exclusivity and will spend more money for quality wine compared to millennials.  

Furthermore, while millennials and Gen Z tend to drink on special occasions or to feel comfortable socializing, Gen Xers tend to use alcohol for relaxation, making them more likely to drink alone.

Baby Boomers

For those wondering which generation drinks the most, we’ve arrived at the answer! Baby boomers — those born between 1946-1964 — tend to drink much more than the generations that follow them. Research shows that 72% percent of baby boomers have consumed alcohol in the past month, compared with 65% percent of Gen Xers and 53 percent of millennials.

Researchers have also noted a steady increase in alcohol use among this generation, particularly among women. Even more alarming, rates of binge drinking — defined as drinking five or more drinks in one sitting for men, or four or more drinks for women — are particularly high in the older population. Approximately 20% of adults aged 60-64 and around 11% over age 65 report recent binge drinking.

Furthermore, a 2021 analysis found that 1 in 20 adults aged 65 or older had alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year. One survey determined that in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013, the rate of AUD increased 107% among people 65 and older. Sadly, the rate of alcohol-induced deaths in 2020 was highest among those aged 55-64 for both males and females.

In general, baby boomers are less concerned with overall health and wellness compared to millennials and Gen Z. For instance, Gen Zers and millennials work out, take personalized supplements, and attend regular psychotherapy sessions at higher rates than Baby Boomers. 

Their preference for alcohol can also be seen in the low number of boomers participating in challenges such as Dry January. According to one survey, 25% of people aged 18-34 planned to abstain from drinking during the month, compared with only 10% of people aged 55 and over.

The Bottom Line

Alcohol use is strongest among the older generations, including Generation X and baby boomers. While millennials drink less than previous generations, Generation Z is ushering a cultural and societal shift by drinking less, choosing not to drink, or pursuing mindful drinking

Regardless of what generation we find ourselves in, it’s never too late to change our drinking habits. Cutting back on alcohol or eliminating it entirely can enhance your mental, physical, and emotional health — and Reframe is here to help show you how.

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