NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Myth of the Drinker's Bonus

Philip J. Cook, Bethany Peters

NBER Working Paper No. 11902
Issued in December 2005
NBER Program(s):   HE   LS

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11902

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