The Youth Lab


Since 2000, the number of drinkers in the world has decreased by almost 5 percentage points, from 47.6 to 43.0, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Drinking is down significantly in some regions, particularly in Europe, which has seen a 10 percentage point decrease in the percentage of drinkers. Across the globe, it is young people who are embracing sobriety most enthusiastically.


According to numerous longitudinal research reports, alcohol consumption among today’s Gen Z is less than that of Millennials at the same age. Most interestingly, however, is the distinct difference in their perception of alcohol as risky behaviour. Gen Z and Millennial data comparison on risky behaviour highlights that today’s Gen Zers perception of risk is down across all areas of potential risk, bar one – alcohol consumption. More than 70% of today’s Gen Z think that binge drinking is very risky, versus 56% of Millennials in 2004. In fact, of Gen Zers surveyed in this Ipsos ‘The Young People’s Omnibus 2018’ report, 28% think having any alcoholic drink is very risky. Why is drinking alcohol perceived to be riskier when other activities such as smoking cannabis, smoking cigarettes, doing dance drugs or even having sex without a condom are all perceived to be less risky by today’s Gen Z cohort?


While the pressure to manage their identity online is an ongoing reality for young people, there is scientific evidence to prove that the decline in alcohol is less to do with electronic media consumption and more with the consequent that young people are spending less time together. From a young person’s perspective, the experience of drinking and smoking is largely a shared experience. A decrease in face-to-face time therefore negatively impact the frequency of occasion for alcoholic consumption. This is resulting in a ‘social norming’ scenario – Gen Zers are less likely to drink alcohol as they see less of their peers doing it. Plus, with more time spent online, they are more exposed to messages from lifestyle/ fitness / foodie influencers praising the virtues of moderation, in a world where the body is a temple and aesthetics rule.

“Online, there is so much conversation about health - both physical and mental. We don’t buy into the idea that there is only one-way to get thrills. I think people my age realise that good clean fun will leave you (and your pocket) feeling … and looking... a lot better.”

Fin, 25

The pressure to present as the best self and to share this curated image of yourself means discipline is required. Sharing drunk behaviour online runs the risk of negatively impacting young people’s reputation of themselves. Gen Zers, savvy at managing their online persona and fierce guardians of their privacy, are well aware of the devastation that can occur when the virality of the Internet comes into play, ruining the reputation of individuals. Being internet safe means being in control. Being drunk is being out of control and potentially damaging to their personal brand image.


While many countries, including the UK, can attribute a decrease in alcoholic consumption in line with the Great Recession of 2008, the lingering youth mindset is that young people are far more conscious of how they spend their money. They are now more likely to plan ahead for a night of entertainment - investing in tickets for music gigs, concerts of festivals is about the certainty of knowing what you are getting.With this, they are more conscious of getting their money’s worth by making sure they make the most of the experience, which involved not getting too drunk.

“I would never want to get too drunk on a night out. I wouldn’t want my friends to have to look after me, or miss something really good. That would be so embarrassing.” Rachel, 18

As a consequence to decreasing alcohol consumption amongst a younger audience, brands and businesses around the globe are innovating to develop alcohol light to alcohol free alternatives, from Heineken Zero beer to Seedlip non-alcoholic spirit.

In fact, Heineken reports that sales of its leading brand rose 7.7% by volume in 2018, helped by the growing success of Heineken 0.0 as it rolled out the zero-alcohol tipple to 38 markets worldwide. Similarly, Seedlip reported a +200% YOY volume growth across UK grocery sales in 2018.

“As young people’s behaviours around alcohol continue to change, the conversation has become less about moderation and more around liberation - Heineken Zero opens up people to so many new occasions. You can have the great taste of beer without the effects of beer. For Heineken Zero success is the myriad of having a strong premium brand, a clear consumer proposition and a great taste.”

Marc Smith, Head of Consumer and Market Intelligence, Heineken IRELAND


Teetotalism is also finding new space on college campuses, bars and leisure venues as the culture of going out and drinking (all the time) continues to evolve. Long established nightclubs are shutting up shop in favour of ‘adult playgrounds’. According to Event Promoter, Eoin Cregan of Bodytonic - the group behind the soon-to-be-opened multi-purpose adult playground (where you can eat, drink, play & dance) Jam Park in Dublin, Ireland:

“Young people are attracted to these destinations as they want places where they can buzz off each other and easily play together.”

These adult playgrounds - from Pioneer Works in New York to Box Park London - are focused on day time fun as much as night time fun and operate on group bookings for access to their multi-purposes spaces that combine everything from crazy golf to rooftop fitness classes, comedy talks, film screenings and of course with a multi-diverse food offering. And in line with young people’s smarts in how they spend their disposable income, they are mostly located outside of more expensive city centre locations, making them a more affordable form of fun.

Traditional ‘pubs’ continue to evolve their entertainment offering too, while also expanding their food offering to deliver Instagrammable experiences. For example, The Aeronaut in London comes with its own circus, and The 4Cs has a huge gaming space complete with giant Scalextric, while Bounce sells itself as a Ping Pong Bar.


Hedonism isn’t being lost per se, but it’s more considered.

Young people are still having more fun, but they are doing it on their terms. They seek out more ‘significant’ moments - stuff they can enjoy and share with friends without any negative consequences on their personal brand image, which means they have higher expectations for their play experiences.

How can your brand tap into young people’s desire for playful moments to ‘buzz off each other’?

See also

Sex Education & Modern Love
Sex Education & Modern Love

“She touched my eyebrows and now I have an erection.” Otis Milburn, Sex Education