Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Are There Differential Effects of Price and Policy on College Students' Drinking Intensity?

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Are There Differential Effects of Price and Policy on College Students' Drinking Intensity?

Article excerpt


A recent survey by the American Medical Association found that college binge drinking is among the top concerns of parents with college-age children. (1) This finding reflects the persistence of excessive alcohol use on college campuses despite the recent attention given to this issue by both the federal government and college administrators. In addition to the much publicized alcohol-related deaths on campus, heavy episodic drinking--or binge drinking--by college students is associated with property damage, injuries arising from fights, unwanted sexual advances, and encounters with the police (Wechsler et al., 1994, 2000b). The adverse consequences of heavy episodic drinking do not fall exclusively on those college students who engage in this behavior. Second-hand effects include interruption of study, having to babysit a drunken friend, and being the victim of physical or sexual assault (Wechsler et al., 2002, 2001b, 1995b).

In addition to identifying the costs associated with excessive drinking by college students, previous empirical research has established that (as with the general population) college students' demand for alcohol responds to changes in the cost of alcohol use. Measures of the nonmonetary costs of drinking, such as gaining access to alcohol, as well as the monetary costs of drinking have been examined in this literature. For example, Wechsler et al. (2001a) find that the prevalence of drinking and heavy episodic drinking are lower at colleges that limit access to alcohol by banning its consumption on campus, with 29 percent of students at schools that ban alcohol on campus abstaining from drinking compared to 16 percent at nonban schools, and 38 percent of students at ban schools engaging in heavy episodic drinking compared to 48 percent at nonban schools. Chaloupka and Wechsler (1996) find that participation in both drinking and heavy episodic drinking is negatively related to the price of alcohol (with estimated price elasticities of participation of -0.006 and -0.145, respectively) and positively related to the number of licensed establishments within 1 mile of the college.

This article builds on these earlier studies of college students' demand for alcohol in two important ways. First, this research formally investigates whether measures of the full price of alcohol have a different impact on the likelihood of becoming a drinker compared to the likelihood of becoming a heavy drinker. The second contribution of this study is that it explores whether the impact of campus-based alcohol policies depends on the availability of off-campus alternatives. Each of these issues addresses important policy questions. For example, bans on the use of alcohol on campus may have a greater impact on an abstainer's decision to drink moderately than on a moderate drinker's decision to drink heavily. An understanding of the response of students with different drinking styles to changing the full price of alcohol can inform policymakers concerned with targeting specific consumption patterns. Similarly, understanding the interactive effect of access to alcohol on and offcampus is of practical use to college-level policymakers, informing them as to the circumstances under which students' drinking behavior can be shaped by campus-based policies alone, and the circumstances under which colleges must work with the broader community in order to change the dinking behavior of students.

The rest of this article is laid out as follows. In Section II we describe the data used in the analysis. Section III presents the statistical strategy employed. Section IV presents the results. Section V provides a discussion of the implications of our findings.


This study is based on the 1997 and 1999 waves of the College Alcohol Study (CAS). The first wave of the CAS was conducted in 1993 and covered 140 colleges and universities. (2) This was a nationally representative sample of 4-year colleges and universities selected from the American Council on Education's list of accredited universities using probability proportionate to size sampling. …

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