The drinking patterns of American and Polish University Students: a cross-national study
Ruth C. Engsa, Jadwiga B. Slawinskab and David J. Hansonc
aHPER 116, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405 (U.S.A.), bDepartment of Studies of Alcohol and Drug Dependence Sobieskiego 1/9, 02-957, Warszawa (Poland) and cSociology, SUNY Potsdam, Potsdam, NY 13676 (U.S A.)
(Received July 25th, 1990)
A study of 3375 American and 1408 Polish university students was accomplished to test the hypotheses that cultural dip ferences influence drinking patterns and beverage preferences between countries. Using the same questionnaire in both samples, the results revealed that significantly (P < 0.001) more drinks per week were consumed by both Polish male (24.9) and female (15.2) students compared to American male (15.0) and female (7.6) students. Significantly (P < 0.001) more wine was consumed by Polish (8.7) compared to the American (0.8) students. American female students consumed more beer than Polish female students. There was no difference between beer and spirits consumption between American and Polish males and Polish students in latter school years consumed more alcohol compared to students in the first years of school. It was concluded that the samples of students in this study reflected their cultures in terms of drinking patterns and beverage preference.
Key words: university students; drinking; cross-national; alcohol abuse
students have had reputations as heavy drinkers since the Middle Ages.
In the 13th and 14th century the Goliards, (Austin, 1985) traveled from
school to school in what is now Poland taking or teaching classes. They
fre-quented taverns and engaged in heavy drinking along with gambling and
song. The aim of drink-ing was to get drunk. However, drunkenness was rarely
treated as an offense at the univer-sities. Needless to say, these wandering
scholars developed an unsavory reputation and being a student was associated
with drunkenness. Students are still sometimes seen as abusing alcohol
in many western cultures, including Poland and the United States.
There have been a few studies concerning col-legiate patterns in Poland over the past 20 years. In the mid 1960s a survey by the Center of Public Opinion indicated that 25% of students were abusing alcohol. A later study (Rydzuyoski in Slawinska, 1988) found that 34% of students abused alcohol in Lodz. In the early 1980s a study of students from one Polish University, reported that 43% of males and 39% of females were abusing alcohol. Conversely, the percent of abstainers was only 3% for males and 6% for females. A study in 1986 - 1987 with 1255 students revealed that there also was a high cor-relation between the frequency and quantity of wine, beer and vodka consumed among students (Slawinska, 1988).
Alcohol consumption in Poland is characterized by a relatively low drinking frequency and a concentrated consumption of large quantities when drinking does occur (Wald, Morawski and Moskalewicz, 1985). Almost every drinking oc-
casion ends in intoxication (Moskalewicz,
1981) and this pattern of infrequent drinking punctuated by drunkenness
is one that has endured for generations according to Morawski and Swiatkiewicz
(1987). Common occasions for drinking include birthdays, holidays, festivals,
weddings, visits by friends or relatives, payday, or arrival of the weekend.
There is no enforced drinking age limit in Poland.
However, drinking patterns and beverage preference appear to differ between rural and urban populations. Higher income and education in urban areas is reflected in higher consumption of imported wines, brandies and beer, which supplement or substitute vodka consumptions. Beer is seen as the drink of the working class. In rural areas lower quality vodkas, low quality domestic or home made wines and illegally produced spirits are more common (Florkowski and McNamara, 1988)
Over the past decade Poland has undergone some political changes which have impacted drinking patterns. Alcohol consumption increased from the decade of the 50s until 1980. Social and economic crisis of the early 1980s led to alcohol rationing from 1981 - 1983 (Wald, Morawski and Moskalewicz, 1985; Wald, Moskalewicz and Morawski, 1990). This caused a decrease in recorded consumption but an in-crease in the production and distribution of illegal alcohol. During the past decade there has also been increased concern about work-related drinking (Morawski and Swiatkiewicz, 1987) and alcohol use in relation to crime and family problems (Osterberg, 1986). Alcohol abuse has been a long time concern of the Polish Roman Catholic Church (Moskalewicz, 1981) and there has been a movement within the church to reduce intoxication and its negative consequences. As part of this and the Solidarity movement young adults have begun to take pledges not to drink or to curtail their drinking. This could result in less drinking among younger students.
However, alcohol has traditionally been seen by Poles as a healthful substance that could serve as a cushion against bitter weather and a palliative for political and economic difficulties.
Thus, there has generally been sympathy for in-ebriation and inebriates (Case, 1985). Combined with tolerance of drinking has often been in-tolerance of abstinence (Florkowski and McNamara, 1988).
In contrast to Poland, a great diversity of drinking patterns are found among adults in the United States. Often these patterns are related to the cultural backgrounds of the individuals. However, regardless of ethnic background or social status, intoxication is generally not the aim of drinking and usually does not occur among the typical adult drinker.
There is also less class distinction in beverage preference, compared with Poland. Beer is the most common beverage consumed and is not just viewed as a working class beverage. There is little status associated with drinking wine. However, as in Poland, expensive wines is generally consumed by those who can most easily afford it. Furthermore approximately 30% of all Americans abstain from alcohol for religious, medical or other reasons. While alcoholism and alcohol abuse are widely seen as critical social problems, there are no clear national norms con-cerning either the use or abuse of alcohol.
In contrast to the adult population, most American students report they sometimes con-sume alcohol to get drunk. Not surprisingly, ap-proximately 20% of all students are considered heavy drinkers?consuming more than 5 drinks more than once a week at any one sitting (Engs and Hanson, 1988). It appears that from 80 to 90% of all students consume alcohol beverages at least once a year, with beer being the most popular beverage. As has been found in Poland females consume less alcohol than do males.
Likewise in the United States there have been political changes which may have affected drink-ing patterns. In 1987 Congress deemed that all states must have 21-year-old alcohol purchase laws in order to continue to receive federal highway funding. However, studies to date have found few differences in drinking patterns of older and younger university students since the law change. Some studies show more abusive drinking among illegal drinkers and others show
little difference between younger and older
students (Engs and Hanson, 1989; Lotterhos, 1988; Gonzalez, 1989; George,
Based upon these cultural differences there are likely to be differences between American and Polish students' drinking preferences and patterns. It is likely that more alcohol in the form of beer will be consumed by American col-lege students, and in particular by the American women, and that more wine will be consumed by Polish students. There will be more abstainers in the American sample. Among both the Ameri-can and Polish samples there will be little dif-ferences in alcohol consumption by age as indicated by year in school. Thus, the purpose of this study was to test the following null hypotheses: (1) There will be no significant dif-ference in drinking patterns or beverage choice between (1) American and Polish students, (2) American and Polish male and female students within and between countries (3) or between American and Polish students with regard to year in school.
The Student Alcohol Questionnaire which contains 6 items for determining quantity-frequency levels of drinking and other items representing problems associated with alcohol abuse and knowledge of alcohol was used (Engs and Hanson, 1988).
Quantity-frequency items from the Student Alcohol Questionnaire
We would like to ask you about your drinking patterns.
1. Let's first take beer. How often, on the average, do you usually have a beer? (If you do not drink beer at all go to ques-tion 3).
be differences in the meaning of various items arising through translation.
The Polish sample was collected from 20 departments in 8 separate universities in different regions of Poland during the academic year 1987 - 88. Undergraduate students from psychology, biology, commerce, physical science, language, education and physical education faculties were asked to complete the Student Alcohol questionnaire along with Polish psychological tests. During the in-class administration, students were instructed to place their names on the questionnaires for follow-up to the other tests. A total of 1407 students completed usable questionnaires and two declined to participate. This sample included 663 males, 744 females, 485 first, 741 second, 91 third, 56 fourth and 34 fifth or higher year students. A limitation to this method of data collection is that students may have either over or under-reported consumption of various alcoholic beverages due to the fact that their names were on the questionnaires.
The American sample was collected during the same academic year and consisted of undergraduate students attending 57 univer-sities in every state of the United States. The universities were selected so as to be generally representative of baccalaureate granting institutions in the country*. At each university, sociology or health or physical education instructors, who teach survey type classes which have a high probability of containing students from every academic major and class level, were contacted. They were asked to administer the Student Alcohol Questionnaire to no more than 75 students in the classroom. Students were requested, as is required by the first author's University Human Subjects Review committee, not to place their names on the questionnaires so as to preserve their anonymity. Approximately 2% of students had unusable questionnaires. The resulting sample contained 3375 students. Of this group there were 1338 males, 2021 females, 883 first, 844 second, 853 third, 700 fourth year students (note: some students did not report their gender or year in school).
*The demographic characteristics
of the American sample are as follows: Type of school: public (88%), private
(12%). Gender: Male (40%), Female (60%). Year in School: First (29%), second
(25%). third (25%) fourth (21%). These categories are similar to the percent
of students attending all four year institutions of higher learning in
the United States. In 1985 the latest year for which statistics have been
published by the Department of Education (Snyder, 1987), 47.5% of American
college students were male, 77.4% at-tended public institutions, and there
were 29% First, 27% second, 22% third and 20% fourth year students. For
Poland no data were found which described the characteristics of students
attending institutions of higher learning.
Based upon a method by Lemmens, Tan and Knibbe (1988) and adopted by Gliksman et al. (1989), the number of drinks consumed on a weekly basis were assessed using the following steps. The frequency of consumption for each beverage type was quantified using a 5-point scale. These frequencies of use response were assigned constant values, in the following manner: every day = 7; at least once a week, but not every day = 3.5; at least once a month, but less than once a week = 0.5; more than once a year, but less than once a month = 0.12; once a year = 0.02; none = 0. For quantity, data were recorded in the following manner: more than 6 drinks = 7.0; 5 - 6 drinks = 5.5; 3 to 4 drinks = 3.5; 2 to 3 drinks = 1.5; less than 1 drink = 0.5; no drinks = 0.
To establish the total number of drinks consumed on a weekly basis, a score was computed by multiplying the recoded quantity by the recoded frequency weight for each of the three beverage types and adding the three products. A limitation to this method is that it may result in an over- or under-estimation of consumption.
For data analysis the SPSSX version 2.0 program was used. Chi-square analysis was used to determine the percent of students who consumed different types of alcoholic beverages. t-Test analysis was accomplished to compare the mean number of drinks consumed per week between the two countries for all students and for males and females. To compare the American and
Polish mean number of drinks consumed on a y weekly basis in regards to effects of country, gender and year in school, computations by means of a 2 (country) x 2 (gender) x 4 (year in university) analysis of variance was used.
of Polish and 78.8% of American students drank. More significantly, chi-square
analysis showed that a significantly higher (P < 0.001, df =
1, x2 = 101) percentage of Polish students consumed an
alcoholic beverage during the proceeding 12 months com-pared to American
students. Chi-square analysis indicated that a significantly higher percentage
(P < 0.001, df = 1, x2= 68) of Polish students (38%)
consumed over 21 drinks per week com-pared to American students (21%).
Consuming over 21 drinks per week is often considered potential problematic
Results of a t-test analysis using separate variance estimates indicated that significantly more (P < 0.001, df = 2013.1, t = 13.9) drinks per week were consumed by Polish (18.6) com-pared to American students (10.6) (Table Ia).
Table Ia. Results of individual t-tests
comparing the mean and S.D. (in parentheses) for the number of drinks of
beer, of wine, of spirits and of all drinks per week between all American
and Polish students.
Mean Drinks (S.D.)
Mean Drinks (S.D.)
|Beer||7.4 (10.2)||7.3 (11.7)|
|Wine||0.8 ( 2.9)||8.7* (10.6)|
|Spirits||2.4 ( 5.3)||2.6 ( 6.5)|
|All drinks||10.6 (14.0)||18.6* (20,0)|
There was no difference in beer or spirit consumption between the Polish and American students. However, Polish students consumed significantly (P < 0.001, df = 1494.9, t = 27.5) more glasses of wine per week (8.7) compared to American students (0.8).
Chi-square analysis indicated that a significantly higher (P < 0.05, df = 1, x2 = 22) percent of Polish (92.0%) compared to American male students (84.6%) had consumed alcohol over the proceeding 12 months. Chi-square analysis also revealed that a significantly (P < 0.001, df = 1, x2 = 29.2) higher percent of Polish (53.0%) compared to American (34%) males consumed 21 or more drinks per week.
A t-test showed that significantly (P < 0.001, df = 1029.4, t = 10.0) more drinks per week were consumed by Polish (24.9) compared to American male (15.0) students. A t-test also revealed that significantly (P < 0.001, df = 692.4, t = 18.8) more glasses of wine per week were consumed by the Polish compared to the American students. On the other hand, there was no difference between beer and spirit con-sumption between males in the two countries (See Table Ib).
Table lb. Results of individualt-tests
comparing the mean and S.D. (in parentheses) for the number of drinks of
beer, of wine, of spirits and of all drinks per week between all American
and Polish male students.
No. of students 3378
Mean Drinks (S.D.)
No. of students 663
Mean Drinks (S.D.)
|Beer||11.4 (11.1)||12.6 (12.5)|
|Wine||0.5 ( 2.5)||9.0* (11.6)|
|Spirits||3.1 ( 6.3)||3.3 ( 7.1)|
|All drinks||15.0 (16.6)||24.9* (22.4)|
Chi-square analysis indicated that a significantly higher (P < 0.001, df = 1, x2 = 72) percent of Polish female (90.1%) compared to American female students (75.3%) consumed alcohol during the preceding 12 months. Significantly more (P < 0.001 df = 1, x2 = 43) Polish (25%) compared to American (13%) female students reported consuming over 21 drinks per week as revealed by chi-square analysis.
A t-test analysis showed that significantly (P < 0.001, df = 1038.4, t = 8.96) more drinks per week were consumed by Polish female (13.0) compared to American female (7.6) students (See Table Ic). t-Test analysis showed that significantly (P < 0.001, df = 800.9, t = 20.4) more drinks of wine were consumed per week by Polish (8.3) compared to American (0.9) students. On the other hand, t-test analysis revealed that American females (4.7) drank significantly (P < 0.001, df = 1769.4, t = 7.8) more drinks of beer on a weekly basis compared to Polish females (2.5). There was no difference in spirits consumption (See Table Ic).
Table Ic. Results of individual t-tests comparing the mean and S.D. (in parentheses) for the number of drinks of beer, of wine, of spirits and of all drinks per week between American and Polish female students.
Country, Gender and Year in School interactions
*p < 0.001
No. of students 2021
Mean Drinks (S.D)
No. of students 744
Mean Drinks (S.D.)
Beer 4.8 ( 7.7) 2.5* ( 5.7) Wine 0.9 ( 3.1) 8.3* ( 9.7) Spirits 1.9 ( 4.5) 2.2 ( 5.7) All drinks 7.6 (10.9) 13.0* (15.2)
Table II. Analysis of variance comparing total number of drinks per week by Gender, Year in school and Country.
|Source of variation||
**P < 0.05.
Patterns and preferences between American
and Polish sample
The results revealed that Polish students consumed more alcohol compared to American students and that more American students were abstainers. Thus the null hypothesis that there would be no difference between the two countries in drinking patterns is rejected. The results appears consistent with the cultural norm of heavier alcohol consumption in Poland with few abstainers and of lighter alcohol consumption and more abstainers in the United States. Given the fact that Polish students were required to place their names on their questionnaires it is interesting to note the very high alcohol consumption among about a third of the Polish students. Since there is no strong cultural norm against drinking, drunkenness, or even an age limit on drinking in Poland, perhaps alcohol consumption was not considered an issue to under-report as it could have been among American students in the same circumstances.
This higher consumption on the part of Polish students resulted primarily from drinking wine. Beer and spirits consumption between the two cultures is almost almost identical but the Polish students consumed approximately 8 times as much wine per week compared with their American counterparts.
Wine is usually expensive in Poland and associated with urban and upper classes. Since very few Polish students go to university they are often seen as the nation's elite. Wine drinking may have reinforced this status and specialness and may reflect Poland's culture values in regards to social class and beverage preference.
In contrast the American culture has little social class stigma associated with a given alcoholic beverage. Since a large proportion of American youth attend institutions of higher education there is little status associated with this activity. The American students appear to reflect their cultural values in the preference of beer. Also in America wine is often associated with meals. Students are less likely to entertain by 'wining and dining' than by 'throwing a kegger' party. These results support the null hypotheses that there would be no differences in beverage preferences in regards to spirits and beer but reject it for wine consumption.
Gentler differences in patters and references
The results indicated an interaction of gender and country. As has been found in most cultures, males consume more alcohol than females. In this sample the males consumed almost twice as many drinks per week compared to the female within each culture. Furthermore, the Polish males and females consumed almost twice as many drinks compared to the American males and females. Potential problematic drinking was found in a high proportion of Polish males, with slightly over a half consuming over 21 drinks per week compared to about a third of the American males. Almost a quarter of the Polish females consumed this amount of alcohol. These results reject the null hypothesis that there would be no
differences between gender or within gender
between the two cultures in drinking patterns.
On the other hand, there appear to be differences in the beverage preferences between the female students in the two cultures. American females drink almost twice as much beer as Polish females with beer being their beverage of choice. In the United States there is no stigma against women drinking beer. It is socially accepted, which is reflected in the higher consumption among the American females compared to the Polish female students. In Poland beer may not be as culturally acceptable for Polish females. Wine, also may, as previously mentioned, reinforce the upper class and elite values of the female university students within Poland. The low consumption of spirits between females in both of the cultures may reflect the fact that spirits may be seen as less socially ac-ceptable for females in both countries or that they are expensive.
Differences by Year in School
The results indicated a significant interaction of Year in School and Country, thus rejecting the null hypothesis. For the Polish sample more alcohol is consumed by students in each year of school peaking in third year. Among the American sample there is little difference in terms of the amount of alcohol consumed. Polish students for each year in school consume about twice as much alcohol as the American students.
In both the United States and Poland there have been political changes in the past decade which may be reflected in these results. Perhaps the lower consumption among students in the earlier years in schools reflects more students choosing to support the Solidarity goal of reducing alcohol problems in Poland. An alternative explanation may be that there may be more stress at higher grade levels leading to heavier drinking and that heaviest drinking students by the last year may have left school. For the American sample the lack of difference suggests that there has been little impact due to the 21-year-old purchase law on alcohol consump-tion between younger and older students.
This study has revealed
differences in drinking patterns and preferences between the students in
the Polish and the American samples. Hypotheses of no differences in drinking
patterns or beverage preference due to gender, country, or year in school
have been rejected. Polish students were found to consume almost twice
as much alcohol on a weekly basis and eight times as much wine compared
to the American students. Wine among Polish females and beer among American
females were the most consumed beverages. Beer was the most consumed beverage
among both Polish and American males. Polish students had higher levels
of consumption in higher years in school while the American students did
These results lead to more questions and caveats. It needs to be kept in mind that it is often difficult to compare two different cultures as their underlying norms concerning various aspects of life, including alcohol, are often quite subtle. What is considered to be heavy consump-tion for students in one culture may not be for another. In view of the results, it is recommend-ed that further cross cultural research between different cultures be undertaken to determine, in depth, the underlying norms which affect each culture's uniqueness. It is then up to the country, within its cultural norms, to decide for itself whether there are potential problems among any segments of its population.
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