Birditt couples and alcohol

Couples who drink alcohol together more likely to stay together

Couple drinking wine

Couples who have similar drinking habits tend to be happier and have a higher chance of staying together compared with couples where only one partner drinks alcohol. This conclusion comes from a recent study from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in a sample participating in a long-term Health and Retirement Survey. 

Analysis of data for a nationally representative sample of 4,864 heterosexual and married US participants over the age of 50, found that women in particular were more dissatisfied in their relationship when they, but not their husbands, were drinkers. The couples were married for an average of 33 years and two-thirds were in their first marriage and in more than half of the couples studied, both partners drank alcohol.

Over ten years, all participants had interviews with the study researchers and answered questions about their drinking habits including whether they drank, how many days a week and what quantity each day they drank.

Lead study author, Dr Kira Birditt, said “We’re not suggesting that people should drink more or change the way they drink. We’re not sure why this is happening, but it could be that couples that do more leisure time activities together have better marital quality.” Furthermore, "The study shows that it’s not about how much they’re drinking, it’s about whether they drink at all."

Dr. Kira Birditt

Dr. Kira Birditt

Dr. Birditt is a Research Associate Professor in the Life Course Development Program. Her research focuses on how people react to interpersonal problems and whether those reactions vary across the lifespan. Her research also examined the circumstances under which positive and negative aspects of relationships are associated with physical and psychological well-being. 

So drinking together, particularly in a social setting, means happier marriages and more likely couples will stay together.

Full abstract:

Drinking Patterns Among Older Couples: Longitudinal Associations With Negative Marital Quality

Kira S. Birditt, James A. Cranford, Jasmine A. Manalel, Toni C. Antonucci

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci gbw073. Published:27 June 2016



Research with younger couples indicates that alcohol use has powerful effects on marital quality, but less work has examined the effects of drinking among older couples. This study examined whether dyadic patterns of drinking status among older couples are associated with negative marital quality over time.


Married participants (N = 4864) from the Health and Retirement Study reported on alcohol consumption (whether they drink alcohol and average amount consumed per week) and negative marital quality (e.g., criticism and demands) across two waves (Wave 1 2006/2008 and Wave 2 2010/2012).


Concordant drinking couples reported decreased negative marital quality over time, and these links were significantly greater among wives. Wives who reported drinking alcohol reported decreased negative marital quality over time when husbands also reported drinking and increased negative marital quality over time when husbands reported not drinking.


The present findings stress the importance of considering the drinking status rather than the amount of alcohol consumed of both members of the couple when attempting to understand drinking and marital quality among older couples. These findings are particularly salient given the increased drinking among baby boomers and the importance of marital quality for health among older couples.