Drunks + Kids = Profits

A study traces liquor industry revenue to minors and adults who abuse alcohol.
A study traces liquor industry revenue to minors and adults who abuse alcohol. "The combined value of illegal underage drinking and adult pathological drinking to the industry was at least $48.3 billion . . . in 2001," researchers wrote. (By Manuel Roig-franzia -- The Washington Post)

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By Richard Morin
Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More than a third to nearly a half of all liquor industry revenue in the United States comes from sales to underage drinkers and adults who abuse alcohol, according to a sobering study conducted by a research team from Columbia University.

"The combined value of illegal underage drinking and adult pathological drinking to the industry was at least $48.3 billion, or 37.5 percent of consumer expenditures for alcohol in 2001," wrote Susan E. Foster and her colleagues in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. "Alternative estimates suggest that these costs may be closer to $62.9 billion, or 48.8 percent of consumer expenditures for alcohol."

Equally chilling was their finding that one in four underage drinkers "already met [clinical] criteria for abusive and dependent drinking." Researchers analyzed data from the census and four national health surveys to arrive at their estimates.

Those figures suggest that the "alcohol industry has a compelling financial motive to attempt to maintain or increase rates" of teenage drinking and alcohol abuse by adults -- one big reason industry self-regulation is never going to work and a strong argument for stiffer government regulation of liquor ads, these researchers said.

The Political Impact of Divorce

One more way divorce is bad for children and society: Kids whose parents divorce are less likely to vote when they grow up.

That's the claim of Julianna Sandell and Eric Plutzer of Pennsylvania State University, who found that divorce can decrease voter participation among white adults by as much as 10 percent, according to a summary of their research in the latest issue of Contexts, published by the American Sociological Association.

They based their conclusion on a survey that tracked 12,144 students beginning in eighth grade and continuing through their early twenties, until they had the opportunity to vote in two presidential and two congressional elections.

Plutzer and Sandell attribute this disinclination to vote to factors such as moving after the breakup of marriage and the loss of "social learning" in divorced households in which parents vote at lower rates and do not discuss current events.

The negative effect was found only in white children -- a result they attributed to the greater destabilization that divorce causes in white families.

The History of Bad IdeasGoodnight Moon

Hmm . . . Let's try this one more time. I asked you to submit ideas that were seriously proposed but were bad in a wry, ironic or otherwise amusing way. You inundated me with e-mails nominating the war in Iraq or "Hillary running for president." One reader nominated that day's lead editorial in T he Washington Post. You can do better. Here's another example of the type of bad idea we seek to honor.

Hurricane season officially begins on Thursday, so batten down the hatches. And as long as there has been bad weather there have been monstrously bad ideas about how to prevent it. One of the best of the worst was proposed in 1991 by the late Alexander Abian, a mathematics professor at Iowa State University.

Abian proposed blowing up the moon with nuclear weapons. He reasoned that a moonless Earth wouldn't wobble; thus the seasons would be eliminated, as would extremes in weather, such as giant hurricanes, heat waves and blizzards. (NASA scientists also noted that a huge chunk of a blown-up moon probably would slam into Earth, eliminating life as we know it -- along with the seasons.) On the Internet and in supermarket tabloids, Abian developed a cult following as the nutty professor "who wants to blow up the moon." Was he serious? Apparently, yes. "Those critics who say 'Dismiss Abian's ideas' are very close to those who dismissed Galileo," said Abian, who died in 1999.

Know of a truly bad idea? Pass it along to morinr@washpost.com. If I use your suggestion, I'll treat you to lunch.

Who Would Have Thought?Jeopardy Champions, the Horny Gene and Baby Names

"The Perils of Betting to Win: Aspiration and Survival in Jeopardy! Tournament of the Champions" by Elizabeth Boyle and Zur Shapira. Discussion paper 417, Center for Rationality, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Economists at the National University of Singapore and New York University, analyzing the decisions made by contestants in the "Jeopardy!" champions tournament, find that elite players typically make irrational bets in "Final Jeopardy!" that frequently cost them the game.

"Age at First Sexual Intercourse, Genes, and Social & Demographic Context: Evidence From Twins and the Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene" by Guang Guo and Yuying Tong. Paper presented at the most recent Population Association of America conference. University of North Carolina sociologists find that twins with a particular gene have sex earlier than the twin who doesn't have the gene.

"Geographical and Political Predictors of Emotion in the Sounds of Favorite Baby Names" by Cynthia Whissell. Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol. 102, No. 104. A Canadian psychologist analyzed the top five baby names for boys and girls in each state and found that girls' names were longer than boys' names, contained more "pleasant" sounds and were easier to pronounce. Also, the most popular names in states that voted heavily for President Bush in 2004 were rated as less-pleasant-sounding than those in states favoring Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).


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