Aims The paper discusses the kinds of reasoning that have been presented as possible mechanisms and reasons for gender differences in alcohol consumption.
Design and methods An overview of the existing literature from different countries is presented.
Findings The existing studies provide a picture of great cultural variance in patterns of alcohol use among men and women. The gender differences in drinking behaviour have been shown to be linked with many aspects of biological differences between men and women leading to women's greater vulnerability to alcohol, of women's and men's differing needs, reasons and motivations in relation to drinking, of gender-specific roles in other areas of life and of ways in which societies regulate peoples’ behaviour, often giving women the role of warden or moderator of others’ drinking.
Conclusions The gender differences in drinking behaviour continue to be considerable and are found in all cultures studied so far. Several studies have argued for reasons underlying these differences, but they still remain largely unexplained.