EITHERver the past two years, my biggest drinking has been at (legal) lockdown dinners with my tight-knit group of 50-year-old friends. We’d sit around a table at curry nights and roast dinners, happily filling champagne glasses well into the night. We tried our luck with the paella and made sangria. I also once made a drowned tiramisu at Baileys, but that doesn’t seem to count.
Getting drunk, however, has never been on my weekly or monthly agenda. To be honest, it’s not on my agenda at all. And it’s a trend that we’re starting to see more and more in people my age: Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2010 or so, seems to be drinking less and zoom more.
In 2018, a highly cited study found that Gen Z drank 20% less per capita than their millennial counterparts. This rings true.
In the past, if you wanted company, the easiest way was to go out. And going out usually involved a drink. Now you can talk to five friends at once, often across multiple platforms, from the comfort of your bedroom. You can start looking for a new relationship in your pajamas, without makeup, by swiping left and right.
In the early 2000s Australian television series, the secret life of us, a group of 20 to 30-somethings getting by on life, relationships and careers in Melbourne. Almost every five minutes someone says: “I’m going out, do you want to come for a drink?”
But these days, sleepless nights seem to take a backseat. This is attributed to things that were not top of mind for previous generations: the fear of drunken moments being documented and posted on social media for everyone (including future employers) to see. The need to save money to combat the financial disaster that Generation Z inherits. The labor market. The uptick in health awareness, which also results in non-alcoholic wine and beer. coming to light. Mental health also plays a role, with previous studies and post-lockdown reporting high levels of psychological distress among young people.
When I was in college, before the pandemic, free booze was the most talked about event giveaway. Very little was needed to persuade people. But now, enticing people to show up is a whole new challenge.
This is likely to surprise many. You might think that college students are surely desperate. return to campus en masse and do everything in person? For my housemate, a baby from 2001, all the bells and whistles and bar etiquette of the world don’t necessarily draw her and her roommates to social events. For a cohort that has spent their entire college life online, there is less incentive to step out of their comfort zone and get drunk with a group of people they barely know.
Is covid to blame? I think he is bigger than that.
Undoubtedly, the confinement caused an increase in alcohol consumption at home. Stanley Tucci was teaching us how to make cocktails, and a day of state-by-state press conferences often ending with a glass of wine, with 42% of millennials report an increase in their drinking in the early months of the pandemic. But as a social drinker facing almost no social calendar, Covid made me drink less.
Some in my generation may laugh out loud at this, but it seems like most people my age consider drinking to be a nice “grown-up” thing to do. There seem to be more festive roast dinners washed down with a glass of wine than a night of shots topped off at 1am with a kebab in a gutter.
My friends who dabble in online dating don’t meet exclusively for a drink, either. They go for walks, ice skating, dinner on the beach or meet for coffee. There seems to be less need for a cloak of alcohol confidence, and with that comes the confidence that you won’t be embarrassed if you get incoherent.
A simple question led to this piece: “Do you drink?” A part of me hesitated to give an unequivocal “yes” without a warning. In college, there was an air of judgment if you didn’t drink to get drunk or go out all the time. What would you do with your hands in a photo if you didn’t have a drink to hold? But now we are “adulting” and while we take photos and post all the moments we raised a glass to, we can also remember them. Greetings to that.