Fancy a Pint? Brew Throughout the World

BY Paul Solman  July 29, 2011 at 9:23 AM EST


Photo by Flickr user hakaider.

Has all the talk about the debt ceiling left you wanting to reach for a cold one? Or several? How are they likely to be drowning their sorrows elsewhere in the world?

You might not expect us to have an answer but, as it happens, we’ve been prompted to look at beer drinking patterns across the globe. Why do some countries consumer more beer than others? Indeed, it is all about economics, say Liesbeth Colen and Johan Swinnen from the University of lager-loving Leuven, Belgium in a recent paper.

As countries feel the first flush of wealth, they knock back more beer. Take China. In 1980, the Chinese drank virtually no beer. Less than 30 years later, they’ve developed quite a thirst for it – consuming 40 billion liters in 2007 alone. (Given China’s huge population, that’s something like a couple of cans a week, per person.) In Russia and Brazil too consumption has become frothy in recent decades.

According to Colen and Swinnen: “In all these countries the combination of income growth and economic liberalization has induced a dramatic growth of production and consumption.”

Hop heads in the U.S. and Europe still out-drink their emerging market brethren on a per capita basis. The Irish and Czechs are in a class of their own, downing more than 160 liters per capita, an average of nearly ten bottles a week. Austrians, Germans, Belgians and British are all in the 100-liter-plus club while the Aussies and Americans consume the most outside of Europe .

Even so, Colen and Swinnen write:

“A remarkable observation is that in all West European countries and in the U.S. per capita consumption has been declining for decades.”

The economists conclude:

“As a country becomes richer, beer consumption rises, but when incomes continue to grow, beer consumption starts to decline.” They calculate the point at which consumption falls: when incomes reach $22,000 per capita (in today’s dollars).

It’s not necessarily that folks in these places drink less. As they get richer, they’re opting for higher class intoxicants. Colen and Swinnen note that in traditional beer drinking countries like the U.S., Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium, “the relative share of beer is declining and that of wine is increasing.”

Our own research finds that, per unit of alcohol, wine is about three times as expensive as beer, at least in the U.S.

Colen and Swinnen also found that the “opening of trade and increasing globalization” decreased suds consumption relative to other kinds of alcohol.

Two final factors that help explain why beer consumption varies from country to country:

Climate: Beer drinking flourishes in Goldilocks weather conditions. According to Colen and Swinnen, “consumption is higher where minimum temperatures are not too low and maximum temperatures are not too high.”

Religion: “High shares of Jews and Muslims in a country correspond to lower levels of beer consumption, while countries with high percentages of Catholics and Protestants consume more beer,” say Colen and Swinnen.

View full slide show, including an interactive game, here.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown- NewsHour’s blog of news and insight _Follow Paul on Twitter._