Over the past two years, the times I’ve had the most to drink are at (legal) lockdown dinner parties with my tight-knit group of 50-year-old friends. We sat around a table at curry nights and roast dinners, merrily topping up glasses of champagne well into the night. We tried our hand at paella and made sangria. I also made a tiramisu drowned in Baileys once, but that doesn’t feel like it counts.
Getting drunk, however, has never been on my weekly or monthly agenda. To be honest, it isn’t on my agenda at all. And it is a trend we are starting to see more and more in people my age: Gen Z, those born from around 1997 to 2010, seem to be drinking less and Zooming more.
In 2018, a much-cited study found that Gen Z were drinking 20% less per capita than their millennial counterparts. This rings true.
In the past, if you wanted company, the easiest way was to go out. And going out usually involved a drink. Now you can talk to five friends at once, often on multiple platforms, from the comfort of your bedroom. You can start searching for a new relationship in your pyjamas, with no makeup on, swiping left and right.
In the Australian TV series from the early 2000s, The Secret Life of Us, a group of 20- to 30-somethings muddle through life, relationships and careers in Melbourne. Almost every five minutes someone says, “I’m going out, do you want to come for a drink?”
But these days all-nighters seem to take second place. This is chalked up to things that weren’t top of mind for previous generations: the fear of drunken moments being documented and posted on social media for all (including future employers) to see. The need to save money to combat the financial doom Gen Z is inheriting. The job market. The uptick in health consciousness, also resulting in nonalcoholic wine and beer coming to the fore. Mental health also plays a part, with studies pre- and post-lockdown reporting high levels of psychological distress among young people.
When I was at uni, pre-pandemic, free alcohol was the most talked about drawcard of events. It took very little persuading to get people there. But now, enticing people to show up is a whole new challenge.
This is likely to surprise many. You would think that uni students are surely desperate to come back to campus in droves and do everything in person? For my housemate, a 2001 baby, all the bells and whistles and bar tabs in the world don’t necessarily draw her and her peers to social events. For a cohort that have spent their entire university life online, there is less incentive to leave their comfort zone and get drunk with a bunch of people they barely know.
Is Covid to blame? I think it’s bigger than that.
Lockdown undoubtedly led to a rise in alcohol consumption at home. Stanley Tucci was teaching us how to make cocktails, and a day of state-by-state press conferences often finished with a glass of wine, with 42% of millennials reporting an increase in their drinking in the early months of the pandemic. But as a social drinker faced with next to no social calendar, Covid made me drink less.
Some in my generation may guffaw at this, but it feels as though most people my age see drinking as a nice “grown-up” thing to do. There seem to be more celebratory roast dinners being washed down with a glass of wine than a night’s worth of shots being finished off at 1am with a kebab in a gutter.
My friends who dabble in online dating also don’t exclusively meet for a drink. They go for walks, ice-skating, dinners on the beach or they meet for coffee. There seems to be less the need for a confidence blanket of alcohol, and with that comes the confidence that you won’t embarrass yourself if you become incoherent.
A simple question led to this piece: “Do you drink?” Some part of me hesitated to give an unequivocal “yes” without a caveat. At university, there was an air of judgment if you didn’t drink to get drunk or go out all the time. What would you do with your hands in a photo if you didn’t have a drink to hold? But now we are “adulting” and while we snap and post all the moments we raise a glass to, we can also remember them. Cheers to that.