The Myth of the Drinker's Bonus
Philip J. Cook, Bethany Peters
Drinkers earn more than non-drinkers, even after controlling for human capital and local labor market conditions. Several mechanisms by which drinking could increase productivity have been proposed but are unconfirmed; the more obvious mechanisms predict the opposite, that drinking can impair productivity. In this paper we reproduce the positive association between drinking and earnings, using data for adults age 27-34 from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979). Since drinking is endogenous in this relationship, we then estimate a reduced-form equation, with alcohol prices (proxied by a new index of excise taxes) replacing the drinking variables. We find strong evidence that the prevalence of full-time work increases with alcohol prices – suggesting that a reduction in drinking increases the labor supply. We also demonstrate some evidence of a positive association between alcohol prices and the earnings of full-time workers. We conclude that most likely the positive association between drinking and earnings is the result of the fact that ethanol is a normal commodity, the consumption of which increases with income, rather than an elixer that enhances productivity.