Newswise — Behavioral economics is the study of the individual, cultural, and social factors that influence economic decisions.Behavioral economic approaches have identified several characteristics that determine individuals’ demand for alcoholic beverages and have been applied to university students, among whom drinking is an important public health problem.  Considerable behavioral economic research has been conducted among students in the United States.  Studies have shown that the price of alcohol is strongly linked to consumption.  Until now, however, behavioral economics approaches have not been used to examine alcohol demand among students outside of the United States.

In this study, researchers examined alcohol demand among 132 U.S. and 132 French students using a hypothetical alcohol purchase task (APT) and a novel APT Choice task, in which non-alcoholic beverages were also available at a fixed low price.  The two tasks were provided via the internet and were paired with a survey that measured the students’ demographics, drinking history, and responses to the tasks.  Findings from the APT revealed that, in both the U.S. and French samples, alcohol price and consumption were inversely related––the higher the price, the lower the demand for alcohol.  Furthermore, the availability of a non-alcoholic beverage reduced alcohol demand in both samples. 

The researchers concluded that low-cost alcohol is associated with greater alcohol consumption in both French and U.S. university students, and the availability of a non-alcoholic beverage not only reduced alcohol demand but also demonstrated “behavioral economic substitutability,” meaning that the low-priced non-alcoholic beverages effectively substituted for alcoholic ones, particularly among the French students. These findings are useful for planning future studies of the behavioral and environmental factors underlying cultural differences and also for developing more specific strategies to reduce heavy drinking in university students.