When do Brits start drinking?

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
October 01, 2020, 4:07 PM UTC

Vast majority of UK adults say they tried booze well before age 18, with most having partaken by the age of 15

Whether it’s a pint in the local or a sip of wine with dinner, for many people their first alcoholic drink is a rite of passage. But at what age does this usually happen? And at what age would parents like it to happen?

YouGov RealTime asked how old Britons were when they had their first drink, and the most common answer was age 16 (given by 17% of respondents). But if we look at the cumulative total we can see that half (55%) of Brits had tried alcohol for the first time by the time they turned 15.

Only 9% say they waited until the legal drinking age and, in fact, the vast majority (81%) of adults say they had already tried alcohol by their 18th birthday. One in four (25%) Brits say they had tried alcohol well before legal age, at 13 or younger.

Men are more likely to have tried alcohol at a younger age, with one in five (22%) having tried it at age 12 or before, compared to just 14% of women.

Would Brits be willing to let their children get away with the same as they did, however? YouGov also asked Brits when they would be willing to let their children drink, and most adults say they wouldn’t allow it before the age of 16 - and when it comes to spirits they want them to wait until 18.

A plurality (a group that is the largest but not a majority) of Brits say they would let their kids have wine (23%) or beer and cider (24%) starting at age 16.  However, a third (36%) of Brits would be happy to let their kids have beer or cider before age 16, while 34% would also give them wine before 16.

The YouGov RealTime research also a notable class divide when it comes to giving children wine. Approaching two thirds (62%) of adults from an ABC1 background would be happy to give their children wine when they were 16 or younger, compared to 49% of adults from a C2DE background who say the same. This same pattern is repeated for beer and cider, with 65% of ABC1 background adults happy to hand the booze over at 16 or before compared to 49% of C2DE adults.

When it comes to alcopops, despite the drinks typically having a low alcohol percentage (between 3% and 7%), Brits are slightly less willing to give them to their offspring at an early age. Nearly a quarter (24%) of adults say they would not let their kids have these until age 18. A fifth (22%) would give them to their children at age 16, with 23% happy to do so before their child turned 16.

When it comes to stronger drinks Brits are more likely to say their children will need to wait until legal drinking age. Half (52%) wouldn’t give their children spirits such as vodka and whisky until they were 18, but 13% of adults would be willing to do so when their child hit 16 years of age.

Younger adults are more likely to be lenient with their children and drinking, for example 22% of 18 to 24 year olds would let their children have spirits at age 16, compared to only 9% of over 65s who say the same.

Learn more about YouGov RealTime research here

See full results here