Gender Differences in Drinking Practices in Middle Aged and Older Russians

Key Messages

There is a major gap between the life expectancy of males and females in Russia and it is likely that alcohol consumption is an important contributor.

Men’s perceived role as breadwinners excuses them from certain responsibilities at home, giving them more opportunities to consume alcohol, compared to women.

Societal norms also play a role; both men and women report that it is more acceptable for a man to be intoxicated in public than it is for a woman.

Formal controls have shown to be ineffective and initiatives aimed at addressing high levels of alcohol consumption are needed.

The Issue

Russia has one of the largest gaps in the life expectancy of men and women in the world and it is likely that alcohol is a major contributing factor. One study showed that only 1% of Russian women drank to a high level of intoxication, compared with 19% of men.

Women in this study preferred lighter drinks such as wine while men preferred vodka and consumed it in larger quantities. The study also shows that special occasions are often accompanied with alcohol. However, women’s drinking during special occasions is very different from men’s. The average amount of alcohol consumed on a special occasion for men is 250g of spirits (8-10 units) which is perceived by the majority of them as a moderate amount. Women, on the other hand, drink in much smaller quantities.

Cultural context

Male alcohol consumption places a huge burden on the Russian economy as well as on the health and well-being of its population. It is well documented that cultural norms and customs regulate consumption of alcohol and that drinking often becomes a symbol of gender roles. Public health campaigns should therefore focus on dissociating alcohol from cultural expectations and values.

It is clear from the study that women drink significantly less than men. This may be due to their traditional role as keeper of the house and family, which increases their responsibilities and limits their opportunities to drink.  Conversely, the traditional role of men as main breadwinners excuses them from responsibilities at home, leaving them with more opportunities to drink.

Both men and women in the study reported that it is more acceptable for a man to be drunk in public in comparison to a woman. This is partly due to stereotypical notions of women as responsible, controlled and feminine role models. In addition, some of the public events that men reported drinking at (such as hockey or football) were considered predominately masculine activities.

Policy implications

Formal controls have shown to be ineffective in shaping Russian alcohol consumption, indicating that policy implications should rather focus on addressing attitudes and values in order to change patterns of belief and behaviour regarding alcohol consumption. Community based approaches, combining educational initiatives and environmental changes have shown to have significantly positive outcomes in altering gender norms in relation to alcohol.

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