Bars vs. grocery stores: Mapping America’s beer belly

Drive down the street in Milwaukee or Madison or Marinette, Wis., and you’re more likely to pass a bar than a grocery store. In fact, in most Wisconsin counties, you’re almost three times more likely to find a place to down a beer than you are to find a place to stock up on groceries.

That’s according to this great new map worked up by FlowingData.com, a Web site that specializes in all kinds of nifty visualizations:


Map courtesy FlowingData.com

As you can see, the darker the brown, the higher the ratio of bars to grocery stores is. The darker the blue, the more grocery stores there are.

The map shows what another group of cartographers dubbed the “Beer Belly of America,” the region around Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas where bars outnumber grocery stores by wide margins. Wisconsin has eight bars per 10,000 people, the data show, coming in third place behind North Dakota, with 9.9 bars per 10,000 people, and Montana, with 8.6.

Grocery stores still outnumber bars across much of the South, where blue laws stayed on the books for years. Statewide, Delaware, Maryland and Mississippi all have fewer than 1.5 bars per 10,000 people, the lowest rates in the country.

Wisconsinites do tend to drink more than the national average. Residents consumed an average of 1.46 gallons of beer and 1.16 gallons of spirits in 2012, according to a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, far higher than the 1.13 gallons of beer and 0.78 gallons of spirits consumed by the average American.

New Hampshire residents drink by far the most beer and spirits, averaging 1.9 gallons per capita. Residents of Idaho and the District of Columbia drank just over a gallon of wine each, more that twice the national average.

But fewer bars don’t equate to less drinking. Mississippi and Delaware, two of the states where it’s hardest to find a bar, both consume more beer than the national average.

How do we compare with other countries? Well, it depends on the country. You’re a lot more likely to find bars in France and grocery stores in Germany, FlowingData’s maps show.

Courtesy FlowingData.com
Courtesy FlowingData.com
Courtesy FlowingData.com
Courtesy FlowingData.com

Internationally, more bars don’t always equate to more drinking. Despite the fact that there are so many more bars in France, the French consume 12.6 liters of alcohol per capita, compared with 11.7 liters consumed by the average German; both states are among the five heaviest-drinking countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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