Essays on the economics of alcohol and risky behaviours

Wilson, Luke (2019) Essays on the economics of alcohol and risky behaviours. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis contains three self-contained essays surrounding the theme of the effects of the availability, consumption, and overall misuse of alcohol, as well as the participation in other risky behaviours associated with alcohol consumption. Chapter Two explores the effect of the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) on alcohol consumption amongst young adults in the United Kingdom (UK). Excessive alcohol consumption among young people is a major public health concern. How alcohol availability influences individual decisions, whether it be the decision to start drinking, or the decision to increase the quantity consumed and the subsequent effect this has on individual health outcomes is highly policy relevant. This chapter examines one particular source of variation in availability, the minimum legal drinking age. Using the General Household Survey (1998-2007), we use a regression discontinuity design (RDD) to estimate the impact of the MLDA in the United Kingdom on alcohol consumption among young adults. There is a discrete jump of 7.3 percentage points in alcohol consumption at the minimum age cut-off across various model specifications. However, we find no evidence to suggest that the MLDA has an effect on binge drinking (the consumption of 8+ units in one period). This has important policy implications for the regulation of alcohol in both an on-premise and off-premise setting. Chapter Three seeks to investigate how attractiveness influences alcohol consumption, binge drinking and a variety of other adolescent risky behaviours. We use linear probability modelling and mediation analysis to estimate the influence of “beauty”, reported by the interviewer, on behaviours related to under-age drinking, smoking, and teenage sexual activity. Furthermore, we use information on popularity (self-defined friendship groups) to investigate its mediating effect with respect to attractiveness and risky behaviours. We find, that the relationship between popularity and attractiveness explains a large proportion of risky behaviour and attractiveness variation. This is particularly notable for girls. In addition, we demonstrate marked effects of teenage attractiveness on these behaviours. More attractive individuals are more likely to engage in under-age drinking, but markedly less likely to smoke or to be sexually active. In a series of robustness checks we argue that these effects do not reflect potential con-founders such as the risky behaviour(s) of peer groups, personal grooming or the socio-economic background of the adolescent. Furthermore, we find that attractive individuals are more likely to have consumed alcohol, than those of modal attractiveness, and those teenagers deemed less attractive are less likely to have consumed alcohol. We estimate that attractive respondents are 6.6 percentage points more likely to have consumed alcohol, than those who were described as unattractive. Throughout we reject concerns that interviewers either vary in their judgement of attractiveness and/ or they may receive a non-random selection of respondents in terms of attractiveness and propensity to engage in risky behaviour. We use school and interviewer fixed effects, as well as information on how respondents present themselves in the interview process through their appearance (personal grooming) and behaviour (self-esteem and personality) to test and verify our results. Our results provide intriguing evidence on the growing literature surrounding the effect of “attractiveness” on labour market outcomes. While attractiveness is associated with higher wages in later life through channels such as confidence, our evidence suggests that attractiveness is also related to earlier consequential life decisions. Chapter Four examines changes in alcohol consumption across the life-course using a large number of waves of a cross-sectional survey, the Health Survey for England (HSE). The decomposition of trends in alcohol volume and heavy drinking measures into age, period, cohort and demographic effects offers an important perspective on the dynamics of change and has the potential for the prediction of problematic drinking and alcohol attributable disease. This study investigates the changing attitudes to drinking in the UK, focusing primarily on the rates of abstention, which have been increasing amongst young adults, as well as changes in heavy drinking episodes documented by the respondent. In the UK, no study to date has documented patterns among cohorts of the late 1990s and 2000s, who are now in the primary age of risk for heavy episodic drinking and the development of alcohol use disorders. We therefore explore changes in abstention and heavy episodic drinking across the life course. We expand on the existing literature by researching a more recent period of time, in which there has been changing attitudes to drinking amongst young adults. Furthermore, we analyse this relationship further by including additional covariates such as price, which incorporates the Alcohol Duty Escalator (2008-2014) and Gross Domestic Product within the age-cohort analysis. We find evidence to suggest that young adults are more likely to identify as abstainers relative to young adults from previous cohorts. However, we find that amongst those who identify as drinkers drink more than their older counterparts. While increasing in abstention rates in the UK is a welcome result, policy makers need to be wary of the increase in heavy drinking. This thesis provides compelling new evidence surrounding how behaviours and attitudes to alcohol have changed over time. It investigates how young adults respond to alcohol purchasing restrictions through the MLDA, how alcohol consumption, amongst other risk taking behaviours, is affected by attractiveness, and finally how consumption and attitudes to alcohol consumption has changed over time relative to their older counterparts.

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Thesis (PhD)
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09 Jul 2019 08:30
Last Modified:
15 Aug 2020 08:07