The researches on alcohol generally only focused on its use or overuse since alcohol is a psychoactive substance (Li, Jiang, Zhang, Yin, Wu, & Zhao, 2011; Piao et al., 2021; Ma et al., 2009), so there are few studies on the behavior of alcohol gifting. In this study, two representative provinces in southern and northern China were selected to explore the status quo of alcohol gifting and their related influencing factors and behavioral outcomes. We also distinguished between actively offering and passively receiving. The study showed that near to half of the participants had received alcohol, and nearly one-third had offered alcohol, suggesting that alcohol gifting is not a minority activity.
There are some disparities in alcohol gifting across different sociodemographic characteristics. Our research showed that the behaviors of offering and receiving alcohol have distinct gender differences. There are two main reasons as follows. On the one hand, there are sex differences in drinking alcohol behavior in China. Some empirical surveys indicated that the drinking frequency of men is strikingly above women (Piao et al., 2021; Ma et al., 2009). On the other hand, compared to women, men are likely to participate more in social interaction, especially business occasions in the context of Chinese socio-cultural.
In addition, the study also revealed that married people tend towards receiving alcohol. A previous study of Chinese drinking behaviors showed that being married is associated with higher rates of alcohol consumption (Wu, Mao, Rockett, & Yue, 2008), that is, married people have higher demand to drink. Married people may pay more attention to maintaining human relationships than singletons, especially on special holidays. They are expected to meet social and family bonding needs through gifting behaviors such as delivering alcohol. Therefore, they prefer to receive alcohol as a gift. Moreover, Chinese society emphasizes filial piety, and gift-giving is a way to show respect for the younger generation to the elders. Married people, which are generally mature and have higher status, are more possibly to receive gifts such as alcohol from someone much younger.
Alcohol consumption is closely associated with social interaction. Chinese traditionally considered drinking as an important tool of social contact and emotional expression. Alcohol is often accompanied by business meetings, social activities, weddings, funerals, holidays, and other special celebrations (Qian, Newman, Yuen, Shell, & Xu, 2018). Therefore, alcohol gifting plays a social role in the process of circulation. The process of giving and receiving alcohol is originally the process of social interaction. It is no surprise that people with a high level of social participation are more likely to give and receive alcohol. Different from commodity circulation, alcohol as a gift converts into social capital in the process of exchange in most cases (Dolfsma, Eijk, & Jolink, 2009). Gift-giving maybe not be a purely altruistic behavior meant to create an obligation in the exchange partner to reciprocate (Humphrey & Hugh-Jones, 1992). As a consequence, people who have received alcohol would be likely to give presents in return or might reward the present-givers by offering help, building relationships, etc. Hence, people with a higher level of a social network, are more likely to receive alcohol from others, but there is no difference in giving behavior. Furthermore, the behaviors of offering and receiving alcohol are also related to family annual income. Higher annual household income indicates higher economic status. It was previously illustrated that individuals of higher economic status, are more likely to offer expensive wines to demonstrate their prestige and high social standing (Lee, Huang, Rozelle, & Sumner, 2009). In other words, alcohol gifting is more likely to circulate at a high economic level.
The study found that compared with Guangdong, the southern coastal area in China, the phenomenon of alcohol offering and receiving is more common in Shaanxi, an inland city in northwest China. It is partially explained by the regional differences in drinking prevalence. According to a study on regional differences in alcohol consumption in China, the prevalence of regular drinking in northern is higher than those in central-southern (Li et al., 2015). It may be explained that northerners perceive drinking as an effective way to cope with cold weather, and northern culture emphasizes hospitality which frequent gatherings and exhortation to drink. In addition, benefiting from the advantages of coastal areas and the reform and opening-up policy, Guangdong’s economic and cultural development level is higher than that of Shaanxi, and economic development spurs people to consciously seek to promote healthy behavior (Peng et al., 2019). People in Guangdong may receive more information about the harm of drinking and pay more attention to their health. Besides, this may also be related to the cultural differences of gifting between the North and the South.
Drinking status is strongly associated with giving and receiving alcohol. Behavioral Susceptibility Theory posits that behavior will gradually increase when doing something becomes convenient (Yang, 2018). Drinkers are more likely to approve of drinking than non-drinkers. Therefore, people who drink often have more knowledge about alcohol, so they are more inclined to choose alcohol as gifts. And, it is convenient and decent to choose alcohol as a gift for those who drink frequently.
In another study, smoking outcomes were predicted by cigarette gifting behaviors (Wu et al., 2022). Notably, the outcomes of the behavior of gifting alcohol show that the behavior not only significantly predicts drinking, but also smoking. Many studies have demonstrated that tobacco and alcohol were complementary products, these two behaviors often occur at the same time (Bien & Burge, 1990; Cameron & Williams, 2001; Mikael & Maria, 2004; Pierani &Tiezzi, 2009). Drinkers are more likely to smoke cigarettes than nondrinkers (Dawson, 2000). Therefore, for the recipient of the alcohol gifting, the effect of receiving behavior on smoking increases with concurrent alcohol consumption. This indicates that receiving alcohol as a gift will facilitate the consumption of addictive substances including tobacco and alcohol in the process of gift circulation.
With regards to the policy implications, the result of the current study provides some enlightenment for prevention and intervention. First of all, we can explicitly conclude that receiving alcohol will increase the probability of drinking and even smoking. Previous studies have suggested that limiting alcohol advertising is an effective intervention to control drinking (Stautz, Frings, Albery, Moss, & Marteau, 2017; Snyder, Milici, Slater, & Strizhakova, 2006). From these findings, it can be suggested that the presentation of advertisements of alcohol as gifts should be restricted and related intervention projects should be designed as refusing the alcohol gifts in particular. Secondly, interventions should be targeted at specific populations, for example, people who are male and married drinkers in the northern region, drink alcohol regularly, have high levels of social network and participation, and people with higher economic status. At last, given the differences in alcohol giving in North and South, local alcohol gifting culture should receive attention when formulating policies and interventions programs.
Some limitations should be considered. First, the cross-sectional design prohibits causal associations. And study with self-reported questionnaires cannot evade recall bias and social desirability. Second, the selection bias might underestimate the prevalence of alcohol offering and receiving because the sample only included the household heads whose children were college students. Moreover, it was difficult to generalize the current findings from the two provincial data to the entire country, but the selected provinces might reflect north-south cultural differences well due to their geographical and economic representativeness.