Study doesn’t say alcohol equals success in life

With former Rep. Mark Foley and Hillsborough County tax collector Doug Belden blaming alcohol for their respective scandals, it might be hard to believe that binge drinking can lead to success in life.

However, a study called “High school alcohol use and young adult labor market outcomes,” which appeared in the National Bureau of Economic Research in September, shows that high school binge drinking is correlated to increased financial success later in life.

The study, conducted jointly by Jeffrey DeSimone, an associate professor of economics at USF, and Pinka Chatterji of Harvard’s Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research, excluded irrelevant advantages that might explain the result, such as coming from a rich family or test scores.

It may seem to some that this result is unexpected; most expect binge drinkers in high school to become lonely alcoholics later in life, not people who will achieve success. However, the result is not as unexpected as one might think.

The researchers were careful to state that it isn’t the drinking that is correlated to higher wages, but more likely behaviors associated with drinking. Being sensation-seeking and less fearful of risks can help people in life, especially when it comes to entrepreneurial activity.

DeSimone told the Oracle, “(High school binge drinkers) are the ones going to parties – drinking parties – in 10th grade, so maybe they’re entrepreneurial in the sense that they’re less risk averse. You know, in the long run, you would think, the entrepreneurs are going to be the ones who have the real high wages.”

It’s also possible the socialization aspect of high school drinking helps later in life. Learning at a young age to be “part of the crowd” – at least in terms of socialization, though certainly not in the realm of ideas – can help with primary factors in success such as networking and the art of selling one’s own merits to others.

It could be that aggressive drinking shows aggressiveness – a quality needed for success in practically anything. In fact, nearly all the qualities shown by those who would binge drink in high school – while also having the common sense not to binge drink later in life – are correlated to success: risk-taking, aggressiveness, sensation seeking, lack of fear, and good people skills.

But remember: It’s those traits, coupled with a willingness to work hard, that lead to success – not the reckless consumption of alcohol.