Drinking to Wealth

Alice Park

If fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, then enjoying a glass of wine every day can’t be all that bad for you. And recent studies have been bearing this out, documenting the possible health benefits of consuming a moderate amount of alcohol –- up to a glass of wine a day, for example. Libation in moderation, it seems, can help to keep the heart healthy and the circulatory system robust, as well as aid in digestion.

But economists have also been interested in the potential up side to imbibing, and researchers at San Jose State University report in the Journal of Labor and Research that people who drink socially make up to 14% more money than teetotalers. Using a national survey of Americans representing a cross section of different demographic and salary groups, the economists found that while drinkers in general made more money than non drinkers, men who drank socially in bars enjoyed a 7% additional boost in their salaries than men who drank alone or outside of bars. (Women hanging out in bars at least once a month did not gain any additional monetary advantage.)

What it means: Bethany Peters and Edward Stingham, the authors of the study, speculate that the added income of the drinkers comes from their greater social networking and social skills. People generally enjoy a beer or glass of wine with friends or colleagues, and those who drink may be building a network of potentially useful job contacts that enables them to not just remain employed but even upgrade their status to a higher paying job more easily. While the authors don’t address it, however, previous research on excessive drinking supports the fact that these benefits, as with the health benefits, drop off after a certain point. The study also doesn’t specific exactly how much drinking the over 8000 subjects did, and instead asked the respondents if they drank at all or abstained, and how often they visited a bar or tavern.

Peters and Stringham’s theory also assumes that there is a significant group of teetotalers; in other words, in order for the drinkers to benefit from their bigger Blackberry contacts, there have to be non drinkers who don’t enjoy the same advantage. After all, the average income in France, where alcohol is part of the culture, is around $25,000 while the average salary in the U.S. is nearly twice that amount.

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