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Toasting Benefits of Social Drinking

September 14, 2006|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

You don't need to golf with the boss to get a raise. Just share a beer.

Two economists argue in a study to be released today that social drinkers tend to have more charisma, a fatter Rolodex and more friends than those who abstain or drink alone. That garrulousness, they say, translates into higher income -- 10% more for men and 14% more for women.

The research, published by the libertarian Reason Foundation, based in Los Angeles, and the Journal of Labor Research, takes aim at efforts in several communities to crack down on college binge drinking as well as proposals to raise alcohol taxes. The notion foaming underneath, according to the researchers, is that drinking "is deviant and harmful to individuals and to society."

Nonsense, say authors Bethany Peters, with Dallas-based Analysis Group, and Edward Stringham, who teaches at San Jose State University. Drawing from a large national database, they argue that social drinking actually leads to "superior market outcomes."

Translation: Those who raise a glass with their office pals tend to network more and add more contacts to their BlackBerries, which can lead to new job opportunities and bigger paychecks.

"Yes, but," said Jennifer Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Careerbuilder.com, an online job search company partly owned by Tribune Co., parent of the Los Angeles Times. "It's true you get to know people on a more personal level during happy hours and other social events and you may learn where opportunities for advancement lie."

But drinking can quickly boomerang, she added. "People tend to have looser lips if they've had a few drinks. You can get yourself into trouble."

The study's findings don't surprise George Hacker, director of alcohol policies at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The people who are best connected in society are generally better off than people who are on the margins," he said. "People who drink alone are people who might have serious problems with alcohol."

But Hacker and others wonder if the authors might have it backward: People who earn more have the cash for drinking with friends. The same can be said about the career boost attributed to golf, said Edward E. Lawler III, who teaches at USC's Marshall School of Business.

"Golfing is an expensive activity," he said. "To golf in the right circles, you often have to be pretty successful already and join the right country club."

Similarly, people may want to drink with you because you can afford to buy expensive champagne, Lawler said. In any event, "it's dangerous to assume a simple causal relationship -- that all I need to get ahead is to golf more or drink more."

Stringham concedes "it might also be the case that drinkers tend to be more social to begin with."

But no matter how affable the drinker, Peters' and Stringham's analysis also found that the paycheck boost vanishes after 35 or more drinks per week, a number that surprised Hacker and other public health experts.

"That's a huge amount of alcohol, about five times as much as the average consumption of alcohol in this country," he said.

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molly.selvin@latimes.com

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