To assess whether a relationship between alcohol use and health exists for older adults before and after controlling for proxy and full indicators of socioeconomic status (SES).
Secondary analysis of data from 2,908 participants in the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing (2012) completing measures of alcohol use, health, SES proxies (income, education) and SES. Sample mean age was 65, 52% were female, more than 80% were drinkers, and more than 75% had educational qualifications.
Moderate drinkers had better health and SES than heavier or nondrinkers. The positive influence of moderate alcohol consumption on health was observed for men and women when controlling for SES proxies, but was substantially reduced in women and completely disappeared for men when controlling for full SES.
SES plays a key role in presumed “heath benefits” of moderate alcohol consumption for older adults. It accounts for any alcohol–health relationship in a sample of men of whom 45% consume at least one drink daily, and substantially attenuates the association between alcohol and health in a sample of women who are not frequent drinkers. Prior research may have missed the influence of SES on this alcohol–health relationship due to the use of incomplete SES measures.