INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: This study estimates cross-country variation in socioeconomic disparities in adolescent alcohol use and identifies country-level characteristics associated with these disparities.
DESIGN AND METHODS: The association between socioeconomic status (family wealth and parental education) and alcohol use (lifetime use and episodic heavy drinking) of 15- to 16-year-olds from 32 European countries was investigated. Country-level characteristics were national income, income inequality and per capita alcohol consumption. Multilevel modelling was applied.
RESULTS: Across countries, lifetime use was lower in wealthy than in less wealthy families (odds ratio [OR](girls) = 0.95, OR(boys) = 0.94). The risk of episodic heavy drinking, in contrast, was higher for children from wealthier families (OR(girls) = 1.04, OR(boys) = 1.08) and lower when parents were highly educated (ORs = 0.95-0.98). Socioeconomic disparities varied substantially between countries. National wealth and income inequality were associated with cross-country variation of disparities in lifetime use in few comparisons, such that among girls, the (negative) effect of family wealth was greatest in countries with unequally distributed income (OR = 0.86). Among boys, the (negative) effect of family wealth was greatest in low-income countries (OR = 1.00), and the (positive) effect of mothers' education was greatest in countries with high income inequality (OR = 1.11).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: Socioeconomic disparities in adolescent alcohol use vary across European countries. Broad country-level indicators can explain this variation only to a limited extent, but results point towards slightly greater socioeconomic disparities in drinking in countries of low national income and countries with a high income inequality.