How does marriage affect alcohol consumption? It depends on whether you are husband or wife, according to research released this month.
The study, led by Corinne Reczek at the University of Cincinnati, showed that being married tended to temper men’s drinking. The opposite was true for women.
Women married to drinkers were also negatively influenced by their husbands’ heavier drinking. Women who had been light drinkers prior to marriage typically adopted their husbands’ habits, according to the study.
The researchers studied data for 5,305 Wisconsin residents who were surveyed four times between 1957 (when they were seniors in high school) and 2004. They also conducted in-depth interviews with 120 participants, half of them partners in long-term marriages — defined as lasting seven years or more — and the other half of varied marital statuses.
The study also showed that married women drank more than women who had been divorced for a long time and those who had recently been widowed. Married men drank less than men who were never married, who were widowed or who were divorced.
Women tended to cut back on their drinking after their marriages dissolved. Men tended to increase their alcohol consumption after divorce.
The data suggest that for men, divorce may remove a barrier to drinking — the wife’s disapproval — and also “point to the use of alcohol, along with drugs, as important ways to cope with the stress and pain experienced during divorce,” the study says.
But divorced women “did not experience the stress of marital loss as a pathway to alcohol use but rather one to depression,” the study found. “Moreover, the loss of their husbands’ alcohol influence prompted less alcohol use” among divorced women.
“Future research should view alcohol use” as “part of a gendered trajectory that unfolds across the life course” as couples transition from “alcohol constraining and alcohol promoting gendered contexts,” the study concludes.