Yes, we were drinking less during the pandemic
And this marketing researcher may have the numbers to prove it
Was it the great urban myth of the pandemic? Were we passed out drunk over the last year, swozzled, snockered, and stewed beyond belief? Websites reported it. So did respected news organizations. And the medical studies? According to entirely too many of them, the booze epidemic during Covid-19 was as bad – if not worse – as heroin, opioids, and crack cocaine.
Because, of course, it may well have been an urban myth, perpetrated by neo-Prohibitionists and medical researchers who were aided and abetted by sloppy journalism and a complete indifference to understanding how the alcohol supply chain works.
And Jordan Cohen may have the numbers to prove it.
“I was frankly surprised to see the results,” he says. “Given all I read and heard, I expected the opposite. But I can tell you that I am extremely confident in the results, based on our sample size, our random selection, and that the study was weighted for the census.”
Cohen’s results? That, in fact, drinking did not increase during the pandemic, and that it actually declined significantly for a variety of age groups. The study, The Pandemic Shopper, was conducted in February by What If Media Group, where Cohen is the chief marketing officer. The results are at a 99% confidence level with margin of error +/- 2.5 percent.
And they don’t mention snockered, swozzled, or stewed:
• Almost three out of five consumers reported consuming less alcohol during the pandemic.
• No age group reported significant increases in drinking. The biggest jump came in the 30-39 group, where almost 19 percent said they drank more. Or, in other words, 80 percent didn’t. Overall, only one out of six people in the study said they increased their alcohol consumption over the last year.
• Some 62 percent of those aged 20-29 said they drank less, which is not surprising to anyone paying attention. Booze costs money, and the youth unemployment rate was 18.5 percent in July 2020. That was down from 26.9 percent in April but still about twice as high as a year earlier. So, healthy lifestyles aside, they couldn’t afford to get wasted.
So what’s going on here?
Why did What If Media Group’s study get such different results? This is not to discount the horrors of alcoholism or to infer that’s it’s OK to drink to excess. As noted on the blog many, many times, I know the ruin alcoholism produces.
Rather, says Cohen, there are many reasons for the discrepancies. First, just because consumers stocked up on alcohol at the beginning of the pandemic doesn’t mean that they drank it all at once, or even eventually.
“Everyone was in a mad rush to buy all sorts of products,” he says. “We didn’t use all that toilet paper at once. Why would anyone assume we drank all that beer at once?”
Second, flaws in how many of the other studies were conducted. Cohen says a survey of depressed women would almost certainly find that they were drinking more during the pandemic, since that group is predisposed to drink more. He also cited too small sample sizes, which would make some results less reliable.
Third, these results jive with other studies – not disputed – that show people were trying to eat healthier and work out more during the pandemic.
Finally, how could alcohol use increase during the pandemic when people were staying home? Bars were closed. People weren’t going to parties. When, asks Cohen, did they have an opportunity to drink more?
“We didn’t do the study to take sides,” he says. “We wanted to find consumer patterns so we could sell the information to advertisers.”
Which, if advertisers are smart, they’ll pay attention to – instead of one more report that says Americans turned into drunken sots during the pandemic.
Chart: The Pandemic Shopper, by What If Media Group