A new study finds that where drinking is concerned, marriage seems to be more beneficial to men than women: it reveals that compared to their single or divorced counterparts, married men tend to consume fewer alcoholic drinks whereas married women tend to consume more.

The researchers propose the reason is the effect married couples have on each other: wives’ drinking habits rub off on their husbands, and vice versa.

Led by Corinne Reczek, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati (UC), they are presenting their findings at the American Sociological Association’s 107th Annual Meeting, in Denver, Colorado, on Sunday.

Previous research has found generally after marriage, people tend to curb their drinking habits, but this is the first to take an in-depth look at the effect of marriage on the drinking habits of men and women separately.

Supported in part by the National Institutes of Aging, Reczek and her team brought together the results of a large long-term survey, and two studies that had conducted in-depth interviews with married and divorced men and women.

The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study survey provided long-term data on 10,317 men and women who graduated high school in 1957. The Marital Quality Over the Life Course Project provided 60 in-depth interviews with 30 heterosexual couples conducted between 2003 and 2006, and another 60 in-depth interviews conducted between 2007 and 2010 with married and divorced men and women came from the Relationships and Health Habits Over the Life Course Study.

The researchers’ main measure of alcohol consumption was number of alcoholic drinks the participants said they drank per month.

The survey data showed that compared with single, divorced and widowed men, married men reported consuming the lowest number of alcoholic drinks. The researchers said one reason was because their wives drank less.

In contrast, married women consumed more alcoholic drinks compared to their long-term divorced and recently-widowed counterparts, which the researchers attribute to the influence of their husbands’ bigger drinking habits.

The survey also revealed that after a divorce, men were more likely to turn to alcohol than women.

Recently divorced men also reported drinking a lot more on average than men who were in long-term marriages.

Comparing men and women, the researchers found in each marital status category, whether single, divorced, married or widowed, men tended on average to consume more alcohol than women.

Plus, the percentage in each category that reported having at least one alcohol-related problem was higher for men than for women.

And although married women appear to drink more, it is their long-term divorced and recently-divorced counterparts who are more likely to report at least one drinking-related problem.

Reczek and colleagues call for further studies to look more closely at these patterns in different racial and ethnic groups, and to investigate how widowhood shapes alcohol use as the years go by.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD