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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 05:23 GMT
Stressed women reach for alcohol
Senior female executives are drinking more than male colleagues
Women executives are more likely to develop an alcohol problem than junior staff, a study shows.

They are also more inclined to turn to alcohol than men in similar grades, according to researchers at University College London.

It is thought the stress of trying to compete with men for executive roles is partly to blame.

The findings are published in the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine.

About 8,000 government employees took part in the survey of men and women working at different levels in 20 departments in London.

The prevalence of problem drinking among the men was roughly the same (between 10 and 12%) from clerical right through to senior executive grades.

But the picture was very different for women, who made up a third of the survey sample.

Women at lower grades were less likely to be problem drinkers than men in comparable grades, but they caught up with men, overtaking them at senior grades.

It may be that women feel they have to compete on an equal footing and take on male roles and behaviours
Jenny Head
Senior female executives were more than three times as likely to be problem drinkers (14%) as those working in the lowest clerical grades (4%).

The employees were asked about the demands of their job, their levels of support at work and at home and the degree to which they could make and influence decisions.

They were also measured on a points basis for the amount of effort they made and the rewards they received in terms of promotional prospects, pay, and the sense of feeling valued.

Glass ceiling

The object of the research was to look at whether work stress was linked to alcohol dependence, said senior lecturer in epidemiology and public health at University College London Jenny Head, who led the research.

"It may be the stress for women of working against a glass ceiling is to blame," she said.

"It may be that women feel they have to compete on an equal footing and take on male roles and behaviours.

"People who find they put in effort and don't feel they are getting rewards are more at risk of becoming a problem drinker."

"We have already shown that stressful conditions at work can lead to poorer health for people.

"This is just another way that stress can impact on health."

"They are also turning to alcohol because they feel they are not being adequately rewarded for their efforts. "

Drinking culture

Alcohol Concern has revealed that the survey reinforces previous studies, which have shown that women at senior levels are drinking more.

The charity's spokeswoman Anne Jenkins said: "We have to ask whether women are drinking more because they feel under pressure.

"But we have to ask what is the drinking culture in this organisation at upper levels.

"Do they feel more stressed, or is it that they are drinking to keep up with their peers?"

Ms Head is reluctant to suggest the findings reflect a general trend, but because this is an ongoing study, it is an issue they plan to investigate further in the future.

Your comments

I'm a physicist and consequently work in a male-dominated profession, but can't say this bothers me, and I certainly don't feel obliged to become 'one of the lads' to succeed. Whilst I think high-flying women may turn to alcohol because they are frustrated by blatant discrimination (i.e. being paid less for the same work), I think a lot of the stress comes the expectation that women working full-time should be domestic goddesses as well... can someone tell me where we're meant to find the time to cook, clean, iron and make our own curtains?!
Heather, UK

No indication in this story on the proportion of the senior executives who were unmarried/not living with a partner. I suspect that amongst the women the percentage was much higher - and that there is a correlation between being a singleton and drinking. It's so much easier at the end of a 12-hour work day to get home and have a drink or two - or even three, rather than get yourself something to eat.
Sue, UK

The statistics do not surprise me
Lesley Newton, UK
As a professional woman who does drink too much to relieve stress, and has many friends in the same position, I can only say that the statistics do not surprise me. However the reader's comments that we should 'walk in her shoes ' as a mother of three working full time puzzles me. No one had to have children if they don't want to in this day - life is all about choices, and having children when you can't afford to stay at home is her choice. Even if we start off in a marriage and can stay at home while hubby works, we can't be blind to the fact that half of marriages and more relationships break down. So there should always be the consideration that you will left holding babies, briefcase and the bottle. Until 40% of men don't lose touch with their children within a year of divorce, there is plenty of reason to drink!
Lesley Newton, UK

Hot news folks; stress is for the most part self-induced. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman - if you're regularly reaching for the bottle after a day in the office you're not cut out for the job. Me? I work a strictly 9-5 day, leaving plenty of time and energy for the wife, kids and most importantly myself. I know I could earn a lot more money, but so what!
Michael Weston, Austria

The angle of this piece abuses the statistics it presents. The percentage of senior women with a drinking problem is marginally more than that of the men. Isn't it more worrying that drinking too much is an issue throughout male society? Even more offensive is the way this article tries to dress itself up as trying to protect poor 'downtrodden' women and at the same time manages to imply they're not capable of competing with men without turning to booze. Nice.
Nicola Monaghan, UK

Not entirely meaningless as it does indicate that women, given the monetary freedom and ego enhancing positions that men have always monopolised, act in much the same way as men do. So, men are not [generalising terribly] the beer swilling health ignorant nutters they're so frequently made out to be. Freedom, cash, and responsibility lead to one thing and one thing alone: a desire to forget.
Nick, UK

It's not a case of emulating the men in their drinking habits. It's the fact that I'm trying to combine a full time job at work with an equally demanding full time job at home as a mother of three. Why am I surprised that I am overweight and drinking to relieve the stress of it all? I'm last on the list in the order of priorities, and knowing that this should not be the case and that I should be 'making more time for me' puts on even more pressure. Come and walk in my shoes for a while anyone who wishes to judge!
Jane, Staffordshire

The life of the reader from Staffordshire sounds very much like mine: lawyer, with family and no time to put myself "first". I am learning, each day, how to balance the various demands on me better. Another reader said women have choices - yes, we do and I fail to see how making one should totally eliminate the others. That would take us back to being defined by our bodies.
BMS, Canada

This seems to be an abuse of statistics
Eamonn O'Riordan, Ireland
This seems to be an abuse of statistics. "It is thought the stress of trying to compete with men for executive roles is partly to blame." You can think anything you like, but the evidence presented does not show any cause and effect. Maybe women who don't have a drink problem self-select themselves out of the workforce before they can become part of senior management. Maybe men who are problem drinkers get fired sooner or drop dead earlier. Maybe women get more honest about their drinking as they get older while men delude themselves.
Eamonn O'Riordan, Ireland

The phrase 'live and let live' really highlights the issue - excessive drinking leads to all manner of health problems including premature death. I'm no teetotaller but still recognise that reaching for the bottle when you're stressed often only makes things worse for you and those around you.
Chris, Belgium

The frustration of working in what is effectively a "boys club" often sends me home fuming with rage and unfortunately this often results in venting my anger to a sympathetic friend over a bottle or three of wine.
F. Newman, UAE

So women executives are turning to the booze. I might have known that the only possible reason for this would be oppression by men and the "glass ceiling". Perhaps when women like Ms Head stop banging on about it, all people will be judged on merit, not sex, colour or orientation.
Joanne, UK

Alcohol, especially binge-drinking, is a huge problem for our country as a whole; it has become part of our so-called 'culture' and although it is true that women aren't able to cope physically with alcohol as well as men, this doesn't stop it being just as much of a problem for men too.

Another meaningless survey, in my view. Live and let live I say.
Nick Fresson, GB

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