Statistics of a Drinky City

With renowned Bay Area modesty, the San Francisco Chronicle proclaims: “There are more well-read drinkers in San Francisco than anywhere else in the land.” [via boing boing]

They base this on Bureau of Labor Statistics data which ranks San Francisco highest in per capita spending on alcohol and books. Each resident there spent an average of:

$744 on booze and $266 on books, out of an annual income of $70,237. The average resident of Los Angeles, by comparison, spent only $412 and $148 for the same items, out of an annual income of $53,514.

That means a San Franciscan spent 1.1 percent of his money on booze. An Angeleno spent only 0.77 percent.

Bar owner Ed Moose of the bar North Beach bar “Moose’s” had these thoughts on the alcohol issue:

“All through history San Franciscans have been drinkers,” he said. “The Gold Rush, the lack of women, the boom and bust times, the devil-may-care attitude, all of that is here.”

Los Angeles is a more sober and a more sobering place, Moose said.

“Nobody drinks in public down there, nobody stays out after about 8 o’clock, ” he said. “Everyone pretends he has to get up early in the morning.”

(Obviously just a little projection going on in terms of people pretending to have a reason to get up in the morning….)

LA may be more sobering — in the 2000 census, 22.1% of the population were below the poverty line compared to 11.3% in SF. But sober seems like a strange accusation.

So then what valid facts might lie behind this statistical ranking? Several of the high spending booze cities do have good daytime drinking weather (SF, Portland, Seattle, New York) but Honolulu is number 3, so that interpretation gets skewed. The top five cities in per capita alcohol spending also have populations less than a million people, which seems odd. Citoes like Chicago, New York, and LA surely spill more liquor than the sleepy village by the Bay. All in all, these statistics seem to just indicate that things are kind of expensive in San Francisco. In which case Moose can be forgiven his irrational bias — you gotta keep your spirits up while dealing with such a tiny concentration of the wealthy-yet-unemployed.

So all this got me looking at demographic data on drinking, which the Feds have also helpfully supplied. The consumer expediture survey java-based public data querey generated the following charts of drinking expenditure based on education. The vertical axis is the average number of dollars spent on alcoholic beverages per year by a person with the corresponding degree.

high school diploma

bachelor’s degree

masters, PhD or professional degree

What does it all mean? The obvious data points:

  • Book lernin’ aside, in 1999 everybody partied like it was 1999.
  • More school = more money spent on drinks.

One interpretation is that people who go to college learn to drink more. Which is of course true. But these charts could also indicate that more college means more expensive drinks. Lacking solid empirical data on the cost-per-sippy of the expensively degreed, this loose end remains naggingly untied.

We also need to factor in the new New Economy and the massive layoffs that began around 2000-2001: people with a high school education and a presumably crappy job had a one year drop in drinking expenditures of about 10%. People with a graduate degree, presumably with a mediocre job which they abruptly lost along with their entire savings, had a major drop in booze expense — almost 25%.

This drop might be single-handedly accounted for by the patrons of Moose’s, one quarter of whom moved to Los Angeles en masse when they all lost their information architect gigs in SoMa, in spite of their master’s degrees. Most of these people are now stuffed into the once comfortable bars of LA, loudly complaining about how much this so-called city sucks and how hard it is to land a good commercial. What’s especially irritating is that they always take up an extra bar stool with their carpetbags, which are inevitably filled with copies of their sexy yet theoretically deep action-adventure-romance screenplays, “cause that’s what you do in LA.”

Call to them, Moose. Howl to them through the foggy night! Cause if they ever stop yelling into their cell phones about how cool the Mission used to be, maybe they’ll hear you and come home. And I’ll be able to get a bar stool again.

Meanwhile, people with just a bachelor’s degree appear to have spent a little more on alcohol over the 2000-2001 period. They are the Honolulu or the Portland of this data set? In either case, kudos!

Opening a souvenir can of fog whilst awaiting further testing…