How do we know that the world is getting happier? It’s drinking more beer! Here’s the chart, from a new paper by Liesbeth Colen and Johan Swinnen:
What we’re seeing here is largely the China effect — and, more generally, a world where poor people, once they reach a certain minimum income, start hitting the hops.
By all indications, we’re still in the early days of this trend, whereby countries slowly converge in terms of per-capita beer consumption. For while China and Russia are soaring, the main beer-drinking nations of the world are all in decline:
In middle and low income countries which experience growth, such as China, Russia, Poland and India, beer consumption grows. In rich countries, however, further growth has led to a reduction in beer consumption per capita.
This is an economics paper, so of course there has to be some kind of regression analysis — in this case OLS, or ordinary least squares:
Our first important result is that we do indeed find an inverted-U shaped relation between income and per capita beer consumption in all pooled OLS and fixed effects specifications. From the pooled OLS regressions (Table 3), we find that countries with higher levels of income initially consume more beer. Yet, the second order coefficient on income is negative, indicating that from a certain income level onwards, higher incomes lead to lower per capita beer consumption. The first and second order effects for income are strongly significant and the coefficients are quite robust across the different specifications.
The fixed effects regression results confirm this (Table 4), so the non-linear relationship for income holds not only between countries, but also within individual countries over time. As a country becomes richer, beer consumption rises, but when incomes continue to grow, beer consumption starts to decline at some income level. We calculated the turning point, i.e. the point where beer consumption starts declining with growing incomes, to be approximately 22,000 U.S. dollars per capita.
I would imagine that this relationship could also be found within the U.S. — that states increase their beer consumption as they grow to an income of about $22,000 per capita, and thereafter see their beer consumption drop as their wine consumption increases.
I can also imagine that we’re going to see a China-driven surge in global wine consumption when the middle class population there starts earning that kind of money. In the first instance, most Chinese wine consumption will probably be domestic, but over the long term it’s surely inevitable that wine imports into China will stop being concentrated at the high end of the market and will start lubricating China’s middle classes on an everyday basis. But that’s probably not going to happen for a decade or two yet.