One in six parents allow their children to drink alcohol at age 14

15 December 2017


Seventeen per cent of UK parents have let their children drink alcohol by the age of 14, according to new findings from the Millennium Cohort Study.

Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, at the UCL Institute of Education, and Pennsylvania State University found that well educated parents of white children were most likely to allow their children to drink at age 14.

As the festive season approaches and wine is often shared at the dinner table, the study’s authors were keen to point out that while having better educated parents is generally a protective factor for children, previous research has shown that those who start drinking early are more likely to fail at school, have behaviour issues, as well as alcohol and substance problems in adulthood. 

Professor Jennifer Maggs, the study’s lead author, said: “Parents of socially advantaged children may believe that allowing children to drink will teach them responsible use or may in fact inoculate them against dangerous drinking. However, there is little research to support these ideas.”

Analysing data on more than 10,000 children born in the UK at the turn of the new century, the researchers examined reports of parents’ drinking habits and attitudes to drinking, linking these to information on family structure, employment status and parents’ educational attainment.

The report, which is published on Friday (15 December), reveals that parents of white children who were employed, had more educational qualifications, and who drank alcohol themselves, were more likely to allow their adolescent children to drink than unemployed parents, those with fewer educational qualifications, and ethnic minority parents.

Parents who abstained from alcohol tended not to allow their children to drink, but among those who did drink, those fathers and mothers who drank heavily were no more likely to let their children drink alcohol than light or moderate drinkers.

By age 14, almost half the children said they had tried more than a few sips of alcohol; three years earlier only about 14 per cent had done so.

Katherine Brown, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “The Chief Medical Officer recommends that an alcohol-free childhood is best, with children not drinking any alcohol before the age of 15. This is important guidance because alcohol can harm children given their bodies and brains are not yet fully developed.

“It is worrying to see that this advice may not be getting across to parents, who are trying to do their best to teach their children about alcohol. We need to see better guidance offered to parents via social marketing campaigns and advice from doctors and schools. Parents deserve to know they can have a positive impact, and can reduce health harms associated with young people drinking.”

Further information

‘Parents who allow early adolescents to drink’ by Professor Jennifer Maggs and Professor Jeremy Staff was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in December 2017.

For further information please contact:

Ryan Bradshaw – UCL Institute of Education
020 7612 6516

Katherine Butler – UCL Institute of Education
020 7911 5389

Notes for editors

  1. When study participants were age 14, their parents were asked, “Do you allow [child’s name] to drink alcohol?”. No further questions were asked about the timing, context, or reasons underlying drinking, eg, whether it was supervised by parents or other adults, how much alcohol was allowed to be consumed, or whether parents allowed their children to drink with their peers.
  2. Parental educational level was measured using National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) levels from 0-5. (NVQ level 0 – No qualifications. NVQ level 1 - O-levels grade D or lower, or CSE grades 2-5. NVQ level 2 - O-levels grade A-C, 2+ AS levels or 1 A level. NVQ level 3 - More than one A level. NVQ level 4 – Teaching Diploma, PGCE or Degree. NVQ level 5 - Higher degree).
  3. The Millennium Cohort Study is following 19,517 young people born across the UK in 2000-01, building a uniquely detailed portrait of the children of the new century. The last survey of parents and children took place in 2015/16 when the study members were age 14. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and a consortium of government departments, and managed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education. Visit
  4. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) is a resource centre based at the UCL Institute of Education. Professors Jennifer Maggs and Jeremy Staff of Pennsylvania State University are partners in CLS’s healthy lifestyles research programme.
  5. The UCL Institute of Education is a world-leading centre for research and teaching in education and social science, ranked number one for education worldwide in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 QS World University Rankings.  It was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2016.  In 2014, the IOE secured ‘outstanding’ grades from Ofsted on every criterion for its initial teacher training, across primary, secondary and further education programmes.  In the most recent Research Excellence Framework assessment of university research, the IOE was top for ‘research power’ (GPA multiplied by the size of the entry) in education. Founded in 1902, the Institute currently has more than 8,000 students and 800 staff.  In December 2014 it became a single-faculty school of UCL, called the UCL Institute of Education.
  6. UCL was founded in 1826. We were the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 39,000 students from 150 countries and over 12,500 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion.| Follow us on Twitter @uclnews| Watch our YouTube channel
  7. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.