Perhaps the most obvious change is that teenagers are getting drunk less often (see chart 1). They start drinking later: the average age at which young Australians first try alcohol has risen from 14.4 to 16.1 since 1998. And even when they start, they sip rather than chug. In Britain, where a fifth of 16- to 24-year-olds do not drink at all, the number of pubs is falling by about 1,000 a year, and nightclubs are faring even worse. In the past young people went out for a drink and perhaps had something to eat at the same time, says Kate Nicholls, head of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, a trade group. Now it is the other way round.
A rising proportion of teenagers have never tried anything mind-altering, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, inhalants and sedatives. The proportion of complete abstainers rose from 11% to 31% in Sweden between 2003 and 2015, and from 23% to an astounding 61% in Iceland.
What is going on? Those doted-upon children seem to have turned into amenable teenagers… Dutch surveys show that teenagers have come to feel more pressure from their parents not to drink. That is probably the main reason for the decline in youthful carousing since 2003…
Ann Hagell, a British adolescent psychologist, suggests another explanation. Today’s young people in Western countries are increasingly ethnically diverse. Britain, for example, has received large flows of immigrants from Africa, south Asia and eastern Europe. Many of those immigrants arrive with strong taboos against drinking… Ms Hagell points out that teenage drinking is rarest in London, where immigrants cluster.Back to latest news