Expert analysts not convinced by recent poll concluding a massive wine consumer gender gap
There has always been a sense that women buy more wine than men in the United States. But according to wine marketers, wine’s gender split isn’t necessarily one-sided and it’s quite complicated, once pricing and styles are taken into consideration. Yes, women buy much more Prosecco and Pinot Grigo. But does that mean men don’t like wine at all?
Nevertheless, Gallup’s 2021 alcohol beverage study, released in August, came up with a massive gender split. It found that only 15 percent of U.S. men who drink alcohol said they preferred wine over beer and spirits, and that the typical U.S. wine drinker was a college educated woman 55 or older. On the other hand, men preferred beer by a more than 3 to 1 margin.
What exactly is going on here?
“I love the work that Gallup does and I don’t want to be critical of what they do, and they’re very good about the basic things, like tracking data over a long period of time,” says Rob McMillan, executive vice president and founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division. “But when it comes to something like volume metrics, where they’re trying to track use over a short period of time, that’s where their numbers fall apart.”
In this, say wine analysts, methodology has not kept pace with technology. Case in point: Gallup still relies on small sample telephone surveys, a method they say has become less and less reliable over the past decade. Plus, Gallup’s sample for this survey was 70 percent cell phones and 30 percent landlines. This split, says Gillespie, would almost certainly make the survey respondents older and more rural, and skew the results accordingly.
A Gallup spokesman declined an interview for this story. But the methodology listed on the survey’s news release said “the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.”
In addition, several of the survey’s other results paralleled findings from other studies over the past several years. This especially included the lack of interest in wine among consumers younger than 50; that fewer Americans drink alcohol; and that those who do drink seem to be drinking less. Gallup noted that the latter figure could be at a 20-year low.
Still, the Gallup results could be flawed in several significant ways, says Jordan Cohen, CEO of digital marketing company, The Fox Hill Group. Cohen pointed to a wide-ranging pandemic drinking study conducted earlier this year that found three out of every five consumers reported consuming less alcohol during the pandemic.
“Phone-based polling is not what it was,” says Cohen, whose pandemic survey queried 48,000 adults via the internet. “If you use landlines, you’re going to get too many people 60 and older, and you’re going to eliminate almost anyone younger than 44. So, if you want to see what Gallup does as a good overview of the situation, that’s what it is. But I don’t think you can use it for specifics.”
In particular, says Cohen, it’s one thing to note that consumers are drinking less. But it’s also important to understand why—be it for health reasons, because alcohol is too expensive, or for religious or moral concerns. The Gallup study hints at the last two, but doesn’t address the first.
Finally, says Gillespie, the Gallup survey almost certainly didn’t include enough people who drink wine because of the requirements needed to conduct a small-size phone sample. The survey doesn’t seem to have differentiated from people who might drink wine once or twice a year from those who drink wine three or four times a month. Each would have been counted as a wine drinker, even though they’re very different kinds of wine drinkers. By comparison, the Wine Market Council questioned almost 10 times that many people in its 2019 study, which found that only 25 percent of Americans don’t drink—about 10 points less than the Gallup number.
Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”