Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 39, Issue 8, pp 911–926 | Cite as

Exploring Gender-Specific Trends in Underage Drinking Across Adolescent Age Groups and Measures of Drinking: Is Girls’ Drinking Catching Up with Boys’?

  • Hua Zhong
  • Jennifer Schwartz
Empirical Research


Underage drinking is among the most serious of public health problems facing adolescents in the United States. Recent concerns have centered on young women, reflected in media reports and arrest statistics on their increasing problematic alcohol use. This study rigorously examined whether girls’ alcohol use rose by applying time series methods to both arrest data, Uniform Crime Reports, and self-report data from Monitoring the Future, a nationally representative long-term survey gathered independently of crime control agents. All self-reported drinking behaviors across all age groups show declining or unchanged female rates and no significant change in the gender gap, while the official source displays a steady narrowing gender gap and some increase of female arrest rates for liquor law violations. Results indicate that social control measures applied to underage drinking have shifted to target young women’s drinking patterns, but their drinking has not become more widespread/problematic. Girls’ increased alcohol use and abuse is a socially constructed problem, rather than the result of normalization of drinking or more strain in girls’ lives. Future underage drinking policies and practices that apply legal intervention strategies to less chronic adolescent drinking behaviors will increase the visibility of girls’ drinking.


Drinking behavior Gender differences Age differences Social change Trends 


  1. Bachman, J., Wadsworth, K., O’Malley, P., Johnston, L., & Schulenberg, J. (1997). Smoking, drinking, and drug use in young adulthood: The impacts of new freedoms and new responsibilities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  2. Best, J. (1999). Random violence: How we talk about new crimes and new victims. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Britt, H., Toomey, T. L., Dunsmuir, W., & Wagenaar, A. C. (2006). Propensity for and correlates of alcohol sales to underage youth. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 50(2), 25–42.Google Scholar
  4. Broidy, L., & Agnew, R. (1997). Gender and crime: A general strain theory perspective. Journal of Research in Crime and Prevention, 34, 275–306.Google Scholar
  5. Califano J. R. (2002, Mar 15). Underage drinking: A big problem. The Washington Post, p. A.22.Google Scholar
  6. Cavanagh, S. (2005). Girls and drinking. Education Week, 24, 12.Google Scholar
  7. Chesney-Lind, M. (2002). Criminalizing victimization: The unintended consequences of pro-arrest politics for girls and women. Criminology and Public Policy, 2, 81–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chesney-Lind, M., & Shelden, R. G. (2004). Girls, delinquency, and juvenile justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  9. Cheung, N. W. T., & Cheung, Y. W. (2006). Is Hong Kong experience normalization of adolescent drug use? Some reflections on the normalization thesis. Substance Use and Misuse, 41, 1967–1990.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Delva, J., Wallace, J. M., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Johnston, L. D., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2005). The epidemiology of alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use among Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban American, and Other Latin American eighth-grade students in the United States: 1991–2002. American Journal of Public Health, 95, 696–702.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Elliott, D. S., & Ageton, S. S. (1980). Reconciling race and class differences in self-reported and official estimates of delinquency. American Sociological Review, 45, 95–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2005). Uniform crime reports: Crime in the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  13. Gabriella, N. A., Chen, C. M., Williams, G. D., & Faden, V. B. (2005). Surveillance report #74: Trends in underage drinking in the United States, 1991–2003. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  14. Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gove, W. R., Hughes, M., & Geerken, M. (1985). Are uniform crime reports a valid indicator of index crimes? An affirmative answer with minor qualifications. Criminology, 24, 451–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Greenfield, T. K. (1998). Improving alcohol consumption measures: More biases, more grist for the mill. Addiction, 93, 974–975.Google Scholar
  17. Hagan, J., & Foster, H. (2003). S/He’s rebel: Toward a sequential stress theory of delinquency and gendered patheays to disadvantage in emerging adulthood. Social Forces, 82, 53–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heimer, K., & DeCoster, S. (1999). The gendering of violent delinquency. Criminology, 37, 277–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hindelang, M. J., Hirschi, T., & Weis, J. G. (1981). Measuring delinquency (Vol. 123). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  20. Hingson, R., & Kenkel, D. (2004). Reducing underage drinking: A collective responsibility, background papers [CD-ROM]. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  21. Horgan, C., Skwara, K. C., & Strickler, G. (2001). Substance abuse: The nation’s number one health problem. Princeton, NJ: Schneuder Institute for Health Policy, Brandeis University.Google Scholar
  22. Jernigan, D. H., Ostroff, J., Ross, C., & O’Hara, J. A., III. (2004). Sex differences in adolescent exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 629–634.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2006). Monitoring the future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2005. NIH Publication No. 06-5882. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.Google Scholar
  24. Kaufman, P., Alt, M. N., & Chapman, C. (2001). Dropout rates in the United States: 2000. NCES 2002-114. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.Google Scholar
  25. Kelling, G., & Coles, C. (1996). Fixing broken windows: Restoring order and reducing crime in our communities. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  26. LaFree, G., & Hunnicutt, G. (2006). Female and male homicide victimization trends: A cross-national context. In K. Heimer & C. Kruttschnitt (Eds.), Gender and crime: Patterns of victimization and offending. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Morse, J. (2002). Women on a binge. Time, 159, 56–61.Google Scholar
  28. Mosher, J. (1980). The history of youthful-drinking laws: Implications for current policy. In H. Wechsler (Ed.), Minimum-drinking-age laws: An evaluation (pp. 11–38). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  29. Mosher, C. J., Miethe, T. D., & Phillips, D. M. (2002). The mismeasures of crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  30. O’Brien, R. (1999). Measuring the convergence/divergence of “serious crime” arrest rates for males and females: 1960–1995. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 25, 97–114.Google Scholar
  31. Palmqvist, R. A., Martikainen, L. K., & Wright, M. R. (2003). A moving target: Reason given by adolescents for alcohol and narcotics use, 1984 and 1999. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, 195–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pampel, F. C. (2001). Cigarette diffusion and sex differences in smoking. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 42, 388–404.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Parker, H., Aldridge, J., & Measham, F. (1998). Illegal leisure: The normalization of adolescent recreational drug use. NY Routledge: New York.Google Scholar
  34. Parker, H., Williams, L., & Aldridge, J. (2002). The normalization of “sensible” recreational drug use. Sociology, 36, 941–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pedriana, N. (2006). From protective to equal treatment: Legal framing processes and transformation of the women’s movement in the 1960’s. American Journal of Sociology, 111, 1718–1761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pettitt, R. (2006). Underage drinking 2005: Girls bingeing more. Including US State News: US Fed News Service.Google Scholar
  37. Robbins, C. A., & Martin, S. S. (1993). Gender, styles of deviance, and drinking problems. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 34, 302–321.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Schulenberg, J. (1996). Getting drunk and growing up: Trajectories of frequent binge drinking during the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 57, 289–304.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Schwartz, J. (2006). Effects of diverse forms of family structure on women’s and men’s homicide. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 1292–1313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schwartz, J., & Rookey, B. D. (2008). The narrowing gender gap in arrests: Assessing competing explanations using self-report, traffic fatality, and official data on drunk driving, 1980–2004. Criminology, 46, 637–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schwartz, J., & Steffensmeier, D. (2007). The nature of female offending: Patterns and explanation. In R. Zaplin (Ed.), Female offenders: Critical perspective and effective interventions. Boston: Jones & Bartlett.Google Scholar
  42. Schwartz, J., Steffensmeier, D., Zhong, H., & Ackerman, J. (2009). Trends in the gender gap in violence: re-evaluating NCVS and other evidence. Criminology, 47, 701–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Steffensmeier, D. (1993). National trends in female arrests, 1960–1990: assessment and recommendations for research. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 9, 413–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Steffensmeier, D., & Allan, E. (1996). Gender and crime: Toward a gendered paradigm of female offending. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 459–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Steffensmeier, D., Schwartz, J., Zhong, H., & Ackerman, J. (2005). An Assessment of recent trends in girls’ violence using diverse longitudinal sources: Is the gender gap closing? Criminology, 43, 355–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2004). The national survey on drug use and health (NSDUH) 2002, 2003 and 2004. Washington DC: Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  47. Wallace, J. M., Bachman, J. G., O’Malley, P. M., Schulenberg, J. E., Cooper, S. M., & Johnston, L. D. (2002). Gender and ethnic differences in smoking, drinking and illicit drug use among American 8th, 10th and 12th grade students, 1976–2000. Addiction, 98, 225–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Warner, L. A., & White, H. R. (2003). Longitudinal effects of age at onset and first drinking situations on problem drinking. Substance Use and Misuse, 38, 1983–2016.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Young, J. (2002). A book review on searching for a new criminology of everyday life: A review of “the culture of control” by David Garland. British Journal of Criminology, 42, 228–261.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  2. 2.Department of SociologyWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA

Personalised recommendations