Russians Are Switching to Wine and Beer: Alcohol Consumption Patterns are Increasingly Dependent on Non-Economic Factors
Social class does not strongly influence the kind of alcohol Russians drink. Gender, age, education and place of residence are more important. For example, young people prefer beer, wines are primarily popular among women, and ‘moonshine in combination with other drinks’ are mainly consumed by the older age groups. This was the conclusion reached by HSE University researchers.
‘Tell me what you drink, and I’ll tell you who you are: how the relationship between social class and the type of alcohol consumed in Russia has changed’— such was the title of a report presented by HSE University Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology representatives Valeriya Kondratenko and Yana Roshchina at the December seminar ‘Sociology of Markets’.
The central question behind the study was: How relevant is the idea that ‘the drinks that a person consumes are a marker of their social class? The researchers set out to determine ‘the relationship between two main characteristics: social class and alcohol consumption’.
In their study, the researchers analysed data of HSE University’s Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS), including not only individual but also certain family characteristics. Employing French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of lifestyle as a theoretical framework, the researchers suggest that the practices a person reproduces in their daily life are characteristic to them depending on their social status.
In order to define social class, the researchers used ESOMAR international methodology, which defines a person’s social class by that of the highest-earning family member of their household. The study found that the proportion of people who belong to the lower classes is decreasing and the number of people in the middle classes is increasing.
The study considered six types of alcoholic drinks: beer and home brew; dry wine and champagne; fortified wine; moonshine; vodka; and ‘other’. The idea was that understanding what alcohol people consume will provide more information about the relationship between social class and the actual amount of alcohol consumed.
The study, covering the period of 1994 to 2018, showed that there had been a shift from the Soviet model of alcohol consumption (which is closer to that of Northern Europe), which is characterised by higher liquor consumption, to the central and southern European model, which is dominated by wine and beer. According to the authors, the chosen time span can be divided into three periods. The first is characterized by the collapse of the Soviet model of alcohol consumption. The second establishes a new model, and the third period strengthens this new model.
Based on a two-stage cluster analysis, seven types of alcohol consumption were identified, which can be broadly divided into three macro-types. These are, as characterized by Valeriya Kondratenko, who presented the report, ‘wine, beer and liquor’. Each type differs in the proportion of people represented and in the rate of alcohol consumption. For example, the people who drink most frequently are those who drink moonshine 5-6 times a month, while those who drink the least consume ‘only wine’ twice a month. It was revealed that the most common model, in terms of the type of alcohol consumption, is ‘only beer’, which comprised almost 1/5 of the whole sample.
The results of the study are interesting in that they show how people of different socio-demographic backgrounds consume drinks in combination.
Wine consumption is more characteristic of women. Middle-aged women from Moscow and St Petersburg drink only wine, while younger women of these two cities report drinking both wine and vodka, as well as beer. The most masculine combination is beer and vodka, and these drinks also represent the ‘most married’ duo of all types presented in the study
The study authors concluded that in the 1990s there was a relationship between alcohol consumption and social class, although slightly less than expected. In the subsequent period, the 2000s, this correlation was weaker, and since 2010 non-economic characteristics, such as gender, age, and others, have become more important. The education factor, for example, made it possible to distinguish the ‘elite female type’ who drinks only wine. And the ‘moonshine in combination with other drinks’ type is more characteristic of older age groups. ‘For beer, on the contrary, the age limit has been decreasing over the years; in recent years it has been consumed by more young people,’ the authors explain.
‘The important conclusion we have made is that, yes, Pierre Bourdieu’s concept is relevant today, but first, not for all types, and second, different non-economic characteristics have been becoming more and more significant over the years, such as gender and age,’ noted Valeriya Kondratenko. She added that researchers will continue to explore the topic for the most recent period of 2012-2018 and beyond.
Mikhail Bogdanov, graduate student of the HSE Faculty of Social Sciences and Junior Research Fellow at the Laboratory of Cultural Sociology and Anthropology of Education, and Yuliya Belova, Research Fellow at LSES (Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology) and Leading Research Fellow at the Laboratory of Political Studies, served as discussants for the presentation.
Both discussants noted that the study is very interesting. Mikhail Bogdanov, in particular, was impressed by the researchers’ approach to investigating the relationship between social status and alcohol consumption. However, he also made a number of comments. In particular, he did not see causal links between them. ‘It is unclear what influences what,’ he said.
Yuliya Belova recalled the famous story of Vladimir Molchanov, showing a video in 1991, where he talks with visitors to a pub. His questions were answered by representatives of various professions and social statuses, ranging from a peasant who had come to the capital specifically to drink beer, to a Moscow intellectual who lacked social interaction. Thus, she made it clear that in the 1990s the relationship between social status and alcohol consumption patterns was not obvious.
In his response to the presentation, Vadim Radaev, HSE University First Vice Rector, raised a number of points. ‘The first relates to periodisation; it is not a technical issue—periodisation is important. I don’t think it’s a good idea to divide the study into eight-year periods,’ he said, adding, ‘I would also like to make a personal observation: the collapse of the Soviet model of alcohol consumption began not in the 1990s, but in 1985, with Gorbachev’s reforms. Construction of the new post-Soviet model continued from 1994-95 until 2000.’ During this period, the only model restructuring in the research period was the decrease in vodka consumption, the increase in wine, beer, and moonshine consumption, and thus the end the Soviet period of alcohol consumption.
Since 2007, riding the wave of economic growth, there has continued to be an increase in consumption, though not in a radical way, Vadim Radaev continued. He identified the beginning of the crisis of 2008 as ‘a third period [that] arises when the level of real disposable income decreases, and the consumption of the main types of alcohol decreases accordingly.’ A fourth period begins in 2016: although the crisis continued, the consumption of alcoholic beverages began to increase, though not of all types (there was no increase in vodka, but wine, beer and brandy consumption increased). It is also important to talk about the dynamics of consumption of different drinks, he said.
Vadim Radaev was particularly interested in one group — those who consume only beer: ‘first of all, because it is large, but the main thing is that this group has a tendency to grow. We know they are young people.’ And in another personal remark, he expressed regret that ‘the fate of low alcohol cocktails sat outside the sample set, although it is clear that their share remained small.’ In response to remarks made during the discussion, the First Vice Rector said that the allocation of classes based on ‘social profile’ is a normal approach. But it is necessary to bear in mind that ‘social class is being replaced by age, or, more precisely, cohorts and generations.’ He also noted that there is a global trend towards more blended alcohol consumption, towards mixing. ‘We fully fit into this trend,’ Vadim Radaev concluded.