Browse all

Why Gen Z is the most non-drinking generation ever

Anxiety, fruit cocktails and a non-alcoholic gin

Why Gen Z is the most non-drinking generation ever  Anxiety, fruit cocktails and a non-alcoholic gin

A few days ago I happened to be in the coolest bar in London's coolest district (Sucre in Mayfair), I had a barman in front of me - Italian, of course - and I don't know how we ended up talking about the drinking habits of the British, from the after-work pub and a celebrated passion for Guinness to Queen Elizabeth's favorite drink (Gin and Dubonnet). But amidst a welter of clichés, is the fact that, according to the metropolis' most esteemed bartenders, the majority of Londoners - more men than women - have decided to abandon alcohol and natural wines in favor of fruity cocktails and surrogates of Tequila and Whiskey without the alcohol content to make them lethal. A BCC UK study on drinking behavior highlighted the trend back in 2019: 16-25-year-olds were the soberest with 26%, compared to the 55-74-year-old generation of which only 15% described themselves as teetotalers.

Among US adults, Gallup showed that 35-54-year-olds are the most likely to drink alcohol (70%), compared to Gen Z (60%) and Boomers (52%), while a 2020 study found that the percentage of college-age Americans rose from 20% to 28% in a decade. Among the few militant drinkers, most young Europeans (aged 18-39) drink once a month (27%), in the US once a week (25%), a decline that extends to most high-income European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand. But how and when did it happen that the divine gift to Homer and Hesiod, the ultimate expression of the Dionysian spirit, fell so far down the list of preferences of the new generations that it was replaced by taurine-fuelled energy drinks? 

Experimenting with alcohol - and drinking to excess without being of legal age to do so - has long been seen as a rite of initiation into adulthood. Alcohol is embraced at puberty as a 'social lubricant', a way of shedding inhibitions, making friends, and escaping everyday reality. But young people today are growing up in a social landscape riddled with financial and social concerns, not drinking or drinking less than previous generations, more exposed and aware of risks and consequences. This year, when Deloitte asked nearly 15,000 Generation Z young people around the world what their most pressing concerns were, they listed the cost of living as their number one (29%), ahead of climate change, unemployment, mental health, and sexual harassment.

Almost half (46%) say they live without a salary and are worried about covering expenses, so much so that to make ends meet, 43% have taken a part-time or full-time job in addition to their main job, 10% more than millennials. A generation eroded by performance anxiety and constantly online, overstimulated by social networking and the pitfalls of the web, for whom moments of relaxation often take the form of abstinence, a break from extroversion, and disconnection.

Gen Z associates alcohol with vulnerability, anxiety, and loss of control. The result is an unprecedented youth culture, which has de-normalized drinking, reshaping the idea of 'nightlife' and socializing, shifting the balance of the beverage industries for the first time in years. It is not surprising that the Mocktail trend (from mock, fake) came from England, as did one of the first companies to impose itself on the market: Seedlip, creator of the Negroni, an alcohol-free Negroni. Last year, Tanqueray, one of the world's most famous London Dry Gin, announced the launch of its Tanqueray 0.0 in Spain and Great Britain, and at the same time, its Made in Italy counterparts flourished, from Sabatini and its Gino° to the Milanese start-up Conviv, passing by the award-winning MeMento.

«The decrease in alcohol consumption is certainly not due to alcohol policy, because all risky practices are decreasing: drug use, unprotected sex, risky behavior [such as smoking, crime, and dangerous driving] - young people are more risk-averse in general,» says Amy Pennay, senior researcher at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University in Melbourne. In an increasingly unpredictable social landscape, from the economy to climate change, punctuated by increasingly rarefied and complex human relationships, Gen Z is claiming its right to control, although the only area in which it can exercise it is in itself and in its own habits. A host of responsible little adults sipping matcha tea and shaking TikTok contemplating the paucity of the world that has come into their hands.