Background: Alcohol consumption has demonstrated substantial temporal trends, with some evidence suggesting strong birth cohort effects. The identification of at-risk birth cohorts can inform the interpretation of alcohol trends across age, time, and demographic characteristics such as gender. The present literature review has 2 objectives. First, we conduct a cross-national review of the literature on birth cohort differences in alcohol consumption, disorder, and mortality. Second, we determine the consistency of evidence for birth cohort effects on gender differences.
Methods: A search was conducted and key data on population characteristics, presence and direction of cohort effects, and interactions with gender compiled. Thirty-one articles were included.
Results: Evidence suggests that younger birth cohorts in North America, especially those born after World War II, are more likely than older cohorts to engage in heavy episodic drinking and develop alcohol disorders, but this cohort effect is not found in Australia and western Europe. Cross-nationally, substantial evidence indicates that women in younger cohorts are at especially high risk for heavy episodic drinking and alcohol disorders.
Discussion: Younger birth cohorts in North America and Europe are engaging in more episodic and problem drinking. The gender gap in alcohol problems is narrowing in many countries, suggesting shifting social norms surrounding gender and alcohol consumption. These trends suggest that public health efforts to specifically target heavy drinking in women are necessary.