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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 10:12 GMT
A woman's right to booze
Woman drinking in a bar
In Britain, drinking in pubs was traditionally the preserve of men. But increasingly women have been joining them at the bar. What made this happen?

When a woman goes out to the pub, it's no longer to sit quietly sipping a port and lemon. Today they are as likely to be matching the men pint for pint.

Average drunk by women (per week)
1999: 9.4 units
2004: 11.8 (est)
Source: Datamonitor
According to the Office of National Statistics, the proportion of women who drink more than the recommended 14 units a week rose from 10% in 1988 to 15% in 1998. Among young professional women, the figure was 27% - the same as for men overall.

And with this habit comes a host of health risks. The latest to be flagged up is an alarming rise in cases of liver cirrhosis among women.

But how did women get to be such big drinkers?

Changing lifestyles

The past couple of decades has seen the rise of a class of professionals in their 20s and 30s who typically have high disposable incomes and few responsibilities. The rise of women in paid employment and the corresponding increase in disposable income has fuelled the increase in alcohol consumption. Young women - those without family responsibilities - seem best able to fund the habit.

Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous
Drink and be merry?
The tendency towards "extended youth" - people putting off marriage and children - may well have contributed towards the trend of higher consumption of alcohol, among both women and men.

Twenty-one per cent of women aged 16-24 regularly drink twice the recommended daily limit, according to the Sunday Times. And for women students, who now make up more than half of the university population, the figure is 48%.

Women-friendly pubs

It is only recently that brewers woke up to the potential of the female market.

Drinking in a bar
Bars have a light and airy atmosphere to attract women
Old-style pubs, with their dark, smoky environments and translucent windows, were - often intentionally - a turn-off for women. But proprietors reasoned that a few simple adjustments could change all that. And if they could attract females, the men would surely follow.

So pubs and bars have become more "female friendly". Big windows, light woods and a more airy feel - the style exemplified by chains such as the Slug and Lettuce and All Bar One - allow passers-by to gauge the place before walking in.

Inside are comfortable chairs, extra-long bars to avoid queues and a wide range of drinks including tea and coffee. Location is also important. The bars tend to be situated on main roads, in well-lit areas, within easy reach of public transport.

Designer drinks

A pint of ale - the traditional pub tipple - has never been popular with women drinkers. Hence the rise of so-called "designer drinks" which include alcopops and pre-mixed spirits such as Smirnoff Ice, V2 and Bacardi Breezer.

Smirnoff Mule
Pre-mixed spirits have proved a winner with females
Brewers have also toned-down the "hard liquor" image of spirits, with new concepts such as fruit-flavoured vodka. Wine is more widely available than ever before.

But beer makers have not totally given up on women, and their persistence has paid off. According to Datamonitor, the growth of premium bottled beers has helped break the barriers between female consumers and what has traditionally been seen as a man's drink.

Bottled varieties have done away with the reliance on cumbersome pints of draught beer. Low-calorie brands such as Bud Light have been a big success with women.

Advertising and marketing

Bridget Jones
"Role model" Bridget Jones
Women used to be the subject of many alcohol advertising campaigns. Now they are often the target audience.

Witness the ads for Bacardi Breezer, which feature a cat dancing on its hind legs with young women, or Baileys in which a woman orders a drink by running her hands over her body or Archers Peach Schnapps, in which a man is outwitted by his girlfriend, who goes for a sneaky night out on the tiles.

"Role models"

It has become the fashion for women to be quite open about enjoying a skinful.

Be they pint-toting "ladettes" such as ZoŽ Ball, hard living pop stars such as Cerys Matthews or wine-swilling thirtysomethings like the fictional Bridget Jones, the media is full of women saying "Why shouldn't we have fun too?"

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Health
Young drinkers fuel liver deaths
08 Mar 00 | Health
Why alcohol acts faster on women
12 Jul 01 | UK
Ladettes enter dictionary
14 Nov 00 | Health
Women drinking 'too much'
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