Previous research suggests that binge drinking among young men serves as a “costly signal” to potential mates, such that the binge drinker is capable of bearing the harmful consequences of alcohol consumption. Here, we propose that binge drinking among young adults is conditionally dependent upon the signaler’s willingness to take risks, which is influenced by the local operational sex ratio (OSR). Using archived binge drinking estimates from 2009 to 2012 and Census Bureau records of OSRs, we tested the relationship between OSR and binge drinking rates at the county level across 3,143 U.S. counties against hypotheses drawn from evolutionary theory. Results from our mixed-effects models revealed that a higher overall OSR (i.e., more eligible men compared to women) was associated with higher male binge drinking rates but lower female binge drinking rates. A higher OSR particularly in the 20–29 and 50+ age groups predicted higher male binge drinking rates but lower female binge drinking rates. Our findings generally support predictions derived from evolutionary theory and suggest that binge drinking may function as a costly sexual signal, conditionally regulated by age and the local sex ratio.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Behavioral Neuroscience