This blog reports on the recently estimated 2015 average alcohol consumption in Ireland and the measurement methodology involved. The estimation was done by the author on behalf of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland. The data used are from the CSO Population and Migration Estimates for April 2015 (published in August 2015) and the Revenue Commissioners’ alcohol clearances data (clearances are beverages released into the market) (the 2015 figures were made available on March 5th 2016). The levels and trends in average alcohol consumption are important elements in public policy evaluation and design and robust estimates of the indicator are desirable.

Estimation Methodology

The measurement approach follows standard international practice and also the practice of previous Irish estimates by Foley (2015). The aggregate alcohol content of the different alcoholic beverages is identified. Revenue publishes alcohol equivalents for beer and spirits but cider and wine are published as quantity of beverage. The estimate is based on 5% alcohol by volume for cider and 12.5% alcohol content for wine and the actual alcohol estimates provided in the clearances data by Revenue are used for spirits and beer. Some international and national estimates use lower alcohol contents for wine and cider. The international and traditional convention of defining the adult population as 15 years and over is used, although this is, of course, an inaccurate measure of the adult population. The population data refer to April of each year. Consumption is equated with clearances as is normally done, although clearances are not an exact measure of consumption due to factors such as unrecorded out of state sourcing, stock changes and the effects of outward and inward tourism. These and other limitations of the alcohol consumption measurement methodology are discussed in Foley (2015).

Average alcohol consumption per adult 2014 and 2015

The data are presented in Table 1. The aggregate alcohol clearances and the “adult” populations are presented. These two are combined to provide the average per adult consumption. 

Table 1.  Average per adult alcohol consumption 2014 and 2015

2014

2015

% change 2014/2015

Litres of pure alcohol (LPA), Total consumption 39,838,510 39,711,197 -0.3
Population aged 15 and over, millions 3.5937 3.6060 +0.3
Litres of pure alcohol per adult (LPA) 11.086 11.013 -0.7
Beer (LPA) 18,820,081 18,538,561 -1.5
Cider (LPA) 3,120,539 2,905,029 -6.9
Spirits (LPA) 7,217,997 7,357,644 +1.9
Wine (LPA) 10,679,893 10,909,963 +2.2

Sources.  CSO Population and Migration Estimates August 2015, Revenue Commissioners’ Clearances data March 2015.

Total alcohol consumption as measured by clearances decreased slightly by 0.3% in 2015. The number of adults increased slightly by 0.3%.  Average per adult alcohol consumption decreased in 2015. It was 11.086 litres of pure alcohol (lpa) in 2014 compared with 11.013 lpa in 2015, a decrease of 0.7%.  Average per adult consumption is now slightly above 11 lpa. By comparison, it was at around 11 lpa in 1994 and peaked at 14.44 lpa in 2001. Since 2001 the average per adult alcohol consumption has declined by 23.7%.

It is useful to translate the litres of pure alcohol into more understandable indicators.

The 2015 11.01 lpa is equivalent to 8.7 pints of beer per week at 4.3% alcohol strength or 2.26 750 ml bottles of wine per week at 12.5% alcohol strength.

These consumption figures are averages. There is a distribution around the average. Some do not drink, some drink a lot and some drink a little. There are different estimates of the rate of abstinence but about 20% of adults do not consume alcohol. The average consumption for the drinking population is therefore about 13.766 lpa and in this group some consume above and some below this average.

In the 15 annual changes between the peak average consumption year of 2001 and 2015 there were 11 decreases and four increases.

The pattern of annual average per adult consumption of alcohol over the most recent five years is shown below:

 Year Lpa
2015 11.013
2014 11.086
2013 10.730
2012 11.614
2011 11.692

Beer and cider volumes decreased in 2015. Spirits and wine both increased. Beer accounted for 47% of alcohol in 2015, cider 7%, spirits 19% and wine 27%. In 2001 wine’s share was only 14% and beer was 55%.

International Context

It is useful to place the Irish consumption level in an international context. The latest OECD Health Statistics for 2015 reports an OECD average alcohol consumption (for 2013 or latest year available) of 8.8 lpa, Ireland in this database is measured as 10.6 lpa for 2013 ( Foley  estimates the Irish 2013 level to be 10.7 lpa) .

The OECD average has been identified as a policy target for Ireland. However, this is not necessarily appropriate as an exact target. The OECD database includes far distant and culturally specific countries such as Turkey and Israel with very low alcohol consumption of 2.6 lpa and 1.4 lpa respectively and several other countries with “lowish” consumption such as Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico and USA. The non EU countries in the database have an average consumption of 7.1 lpa. The 21 EU members included in the OECD database have an average consumption of 9.9 lpa compared to the 10.6 recorded in the database for Ireland. Ireland is not widely out of line with this. These figures exclude unrecorded consumption which can be relatively high in some countries, such as, for example, Portugal.

Ireland is ranked ninth highest in the OECD database with all eight higher countries being from the EU. This ranking contrasts with 2001, which was Ireland’s peak consumption level, when Ireland was the highest alcohol consuming country in the OECD. If we use the 2015 estimate of 11.01 lpa instead of the estimate in the OECD database Ireland would be fifth highest.

The eight EU countries, of those in the OECD database, with higher alcohol consumption than Ireland (figures relate to 2013 or latest available year) were:

  • Austria 12.2 lpa
  • Czech Republic 11.5 lpa
  • Estonia 11.8 lpa
  • France 11.1 lpa
  • Germany 10.9 lpa
  • Hungary 11.1 lpa
  • Luxembourg 11.0 lpa
  • Poland 10.8 lpa

Average per adult alcohol consumption decreased by 0.7% in 2015 compared with 2014; from 11.086 lpa to 11.013 lpa. Total consumption decreased by 0.3% in 2015 and there were was an increase in the adult population of 0.3%.  Beer volume decreased by 1.5%. Cider volume decreased by 6.9%. Spirits volume increased by 1.9%. Wine volume increased by 2.2%. Since its peak in 2001 the average per adult alcohol consumption has declined by 23.7%.

Beer accounted for 47% of alcohol consumed in 2015, cider 7%, spirits 19% and wine 27%. In 2001 wine’s share was only 14% while beer was 55%.

 The 2015 11.01 lpa is equivalent to 8.7 pints of beer per week at 4.3% alcohol strength or 2.26 750 ml bottles of wine per week at 12.5% alcohol strength.

In 2001 Ireland was the highest alcohol consuming country in the OECD. Now, using OECD database figures it is ninth highest or, based on the latest 2015 Irish figures and the “older” OECD other country database figures, Ireland is fifth highest.

Anthony Foley is Senior Lecturer in Economics in DCU Business School, and lectures on the Executive MBA Programme.

References

  • Foley Anthony. Estimates of Alcohol Consumption Per Adult 2014. Drinks Industry Group of Ireland. 2015
  • Foley Anthony. Alcohol Consumption: Measurement and Data Issues; and Performance. Economics, Finance and Entrepreneurship Research Seminar Series. DCU Business School. November 2015
  • Population and Migration Estimates April 2015. Central Statistics Office. August 2015
  • Revenue Commissioners. Alcohol Clearances (available from Revenue Commissioners)

 

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