Does Drinking More Lead to Better Financial Benefits in East Asia: A Study on Recent Data

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A joint study conducted in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea revealed that higher alcohol tolerance doesn't equate to better financial benefits. 52% or more of the population in these countries were reported to have alcohol intolerance, and drinking culture in East Asia may not be as useful to financial success as was previously thought.

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In East Asia, social drinking after work is considered a crucial aspect of building professional relationships. Failing to participate in these gatherings is often perceived as a disadvantage in terms of career advancement. However, recent research conducted in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, which analyzed the drinking habits and financial status of employed men, has revealed that a higher tolerance for alcohol does not necessarily equate to a better financial situation compared to those who drink less or are unable to drink.

The study found that those with alcohol-intolerance reported feeling more workplace pressure to drink than their alcohol-tolerant counterparts

With nearly half of the population in East Asia having some form of alcohol intolerance, and the increasing popularity of the sober-conscious lifestyle, this finding may be welcomed by those who prefer not to drink as a means of advancing their careers.

Have you ever felt pressured to join an after-work drinking party, even if you’re more inclined to have some tea than get tipsy? In East Asia, drinking with your colleagues is traditionally seen as an almost essential part of the working culture. Drinking parties are used to build trust, get closer to your boss or subordinates, and discuss topics more candidly than in the workplace. However, a joint study between researchers in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea appears to show that those who drink more don’t necessarily reap extra financial benefits at work, compared to those who drink less.

60% of the people studied in South Korea reported to have alcohol-intolerance.

"We found no justification for drinking for the purpose of improving labor market outcomes," said Professor Daiji Kawaguchi, an economist from the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo. "Despite the widespread perception that drinking is important for business communication in East Asia, we did not find evidence supporting the idea. Health research has already found that there is no benefit of heavy alcohol consumption in terms of improving health outcomes, so I think this is important knowledge for when a person decides to drink or not." .

The highest percentage of alcohol tolerance was found in Japan, at 48%

The team surveyed working men aged 25 to 59 years old with a list of 45 questions, including ones on health, drinking habits, finances, and weekly working hours. Respondents also self-checked their alcohol tolerance using a simple stick-on alcohol patch test. In total, about 3,500 men from across the three regions participated. The researchers were particularly interested in Asian men not only because of the work-related drinking culture, but also because of alcohol flush, or "Asian flush," syndrome (AFS), which causes people’s faces to turn red while they also quickly experience headaches, sickness, and other symptoms due to a genetic inability to digest alcohol.

Alcohol-intolerance and flush syndrome are caused by a mutation in the ALDH2 gene

"We wanted to find out if a wage premium existed for those with a higher alcohol tolerance," explained Kawaguchi. "Although our results showed that alcohol-tolerant men do drink more often and more each time than alcohol-intolerant men, there was no significant difference across the three populations in terms of working hours or earnings between them." About 52% of the respondents in Japan and Taiwan and about 60% in South Korea were alcohol intolerant, which the researchers say is in line with figures reported in medical literature.

East Asian countries that heavily value workplace drinking culture also tend to have higher rates of alcoholism

A limitation of the study was that the South Korean sample size was smaller (around 500 people, compared to 1,000 from Taiwan and 2,000 from Japan), restricing their ability to draw definitive conclusions about their results. Yet, the fact that the differences across the three countries in terms of alcohol tolerance and financial status of those who drink more don’t hold true in every population, does give new insight into the potential benefits of drinking in East Asia.

The study was focused on employed men between the ages of 25 and 59.

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