Intergovernmental committee on Drugs working party on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Australia: An Update
8.3 Social trends and interpersonal factors
A number of major social changes have occurred over recent decades that impact significantly on the social and cultural world of young people, and young women in particular, which can have a powerful influence on a wide range of behaviours including drinking behaviours.
Key changes include the following:
- Women’s roles in society have altered greatly. Women now participate in the workforce to a much greater extent, marry later, have fewer children, more independence and wider life aspirations than ever before.
- Young people, and young women in particular, drink more than any previous generation.
- Today’s 14-24 year olds were raised by ‘baby boomers’ (or their children) who hold substantially less rigid and authoritarian views than previous generations.
- Family structures have changed significantly over the last century. People marry much later in life and have fewer children. There are more marriages with no children and a greater proportion of women who have not borne a child. Hence, child bearing and rearing does not play the prominent role in a women’s life today as it did even 10 years ago.
- The proportion of single parent families has increased substantially over the past 15 years with the result that family socialisation for young persons living with a sole parent may be significantly altered.
- Young women delay starting their own families, remain living in the family home for longer periods and delay home ownership in order to participate in other activities such as study and travel. Hence, young women have longer periods of independence often with high levels of expendable income.
- Young people stay in education longer than previously.
- Delayed entry into traditional markers of adulthood such as employment, leaving home, marriage and child rearing has resulted in the emergence of an apparent period of extended adolescence.
- People in Australian society report lower levels of religious affiliation than previously. Religious affiliation is known to be associated with lower levels of drug and alcohol use in general.
- Transition to work or higher study is associated with changed patterns of alcohol use. Some workplace environments, for example the hospitality industry where many young women find their first job, as a bar attendant, are particularly conducive to adopting risky alcohol use patterns.
- Young women are often introduced to alcohol by their parents. Parental supply of alcohol is associated with lower levels of consumption than supply from other sources.
- Young people’s drinking behaviours are substantially influenced by peers. As an adolescent matures, peers become more influential than parents. Young women often drink large amounts to mimic peers.
cost of alcohol products, coupled with intense and skilful campaigns that market alcohol products designed specifically to appeal to the young female palate.
Importantly, what young people drink has also changed with a significant shift in beverage preference to spirits, or spirit based drinks, having occurred over the past 5-10 years. Many spirit based drinks are sweetly flavoured, milk-based and taste more like a soft drink than an alcohol beverage. This shift in beverage preference is important in the context of FASD as it is easier to reach the point of intoxication or consume more alcohol than intended when consuming these types of products.
Drinking plays a central role in the social lives and leisure lifestyles of most young Australians. For young women it is especially linked to freedom, independence and equality. All principles that are held in high esteem by young people in general. Hence, drinking alcohol is increasingly common among young Australian women of child bearing age and its centrality in their lives is likely to increase rather than decrease over the coming years. Young women start to drink earlier, with more potent forms of alcohol and have established drinking patterns well before they are likely to consider having a child. Interventions and preventive strategies need to be mindful of the well established, if not entrenched, nature of drinking patterns and its social and symbolic significance in young women’s lives.