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Does Having Kids Really Ruin All The Fun? Drinking Habits of Couples: Before and After Kids

Does Having Kids Really Ruin All The Fun?

Drinking Habits of Couples: Before and After Kids

Elizabeth East


Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 1.53.15 PMIt is a common stereotype that once a couple has children, they cut back on going out to bars, drinking, and having fun in general. How true is this, really? I encounter many parents who talk about drinking in response to parenthood. Perhaps, the transition after children is not from drinking to not drinking, but a change in the forum of drinking. Maybe couples without children go to bars to drink alcoholic beverages more and those couples with children drink more at dinner with their kids.

In order to learn more about the drinking habits of couples with and without children, I decided to conduct an ethnography. An ethnography is a type of immersion and observation study defined by going into the environment and watching people. This type of study allows the observer to get up close and personal with the culture and those that they are studying.

I chose a festive restaurant to conduct the ethnography. This restaurant was a large popular Mexican restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama that is quite busy on the weekends. In order to protect the identities of the couples I observed and protect them from embarrassment, all names and identifiers will be kept secret and the name of the restaurant will not be revealed. I will refer to the restaurant as simply “the cantina.”   The cantina has a festive culture and environment where is appears to be common for individuals to order alcoholic beverages but it is also not a bar. Everyone does not order alcoholic beverages. Families with small children often come to eat and drink, making the cantina an ideal environment for this study.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 1.52.19 PMI was seated at a table towards the middle of the restaurant, which was perfect for making discrete observations of the couples seated around me.   In order to immerse myself in the restaurant’s culture and environment, I order a meal. I also attended with a friend so that I would not be the only one at the restaurant alone. To record my observations, I brought an iPad with me.

The key findings of my study were that couples without kids did, in fact, order more drinks than couples with kids. However, interestingly, in both couples with and without children with them, the man in the relationship ordered more alcoholic beverages than the woman. Specifically, 42% of couples without children had drinks compared to 76% of couples who did not have kids.

These findings suggest several things and leave space for more research. The fact that couples with children ordered less alcohol does seem to support the stereotype that those with kids drink less. However, 42% is still a substantial percentage, suggesting that couples with kids still enjoy an alcoholic beverage, albeit less often than before having kids.

The more interesting finding was that men tended to Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 3.09.13 PMdrink more than women, regardless of whether they had kids or not. This suggests that a gender role may be in play here. Perhaps women are more concerned about drinking in general than men are and therefore order less. Perhaps women are fulfilling the role of caretaker and allow the men to order more drinks trusting that they will be sober to drive and take care of the man.

The ethnography demonstrated that more research needs to be done to understand the drinking habits of couples with and without children. In addition, another interesting area of research would be looking at upper middle-aged couples. Does the frequency of drinking go back up after the couples’ kids grow up and leave home?