00:00:00: Claudia: Dear listeners, fact lovers, and data enthusiasts, welcome to our episode "Bar hopping through Europe with the ESS-expert Diana Zavala-Rojas." She is a member of the Core Scientific Team of the European Social Survey in Spain, which measures the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour patterns of the people in Europe. There she contributes to questionnaire design, translation, and measurement quality. The following interview is held by Lydia Repke.
00:00:36: Lydia: Hi Diana, great to see you.
00:00:38: Diana: Hi Lydia. Thanks for having me here, pleasure to record this podcast with you.
00:00:45: Lydia: [laughs] Yeah, as you know, I asked you today to meet with me because we have known each other for many, many years, back from my time in Barcelona at the Universidad Pompeu Fabra, where you work for the European Social Survey, which is also known as the ESS. And where over the course of the years, throughout our PhDs, we became really, really good friends. But today I would like to talk to you as the expert you are. And as you know, at GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences, we produce a podcast, and currently, we’re working on a thematic series on measurement and data quality. And in this context, your professional input is particularly valuable for us. So, we’re very happy that you agreed to be here today. So t hank you for that. And, yeah, actually, I had to think of a talk that – so when preparing for this interview – I had to think of a talk that we gave together a few years back on “How to make the non-measurable measurable – quantifying society.” And I remember that you talked back then about the measurement of alcohol consumption and binge drinking in the ESS in round 7, which dated to 2014 if I remember correctly. But before we go deeper into these measurement aspects of alcohol, I was wondering whether you could briefly introduce us to the world of the ESS.
00:02:19: Diana: Sure, pleasure. So, the European Social Survey is an academically driven survey conducted every two years across Europe since 2001. Uhm, we conduct face-to-face interviews to measure the attitudes, beliefs, and behavior patterns in more than 30 nations and 35 languages. European Social Survey is also a research infrastructure consortium for the Social Sciences.
00:02:48: Lydia: Yeah, very interesting, thank you. And now, let’s just dive directly into alcohol consumption. How is that actually measured in the ESS? Maybe you can explain that.
00:02:58: Diana: Yes. So, we have several questions to, to arrive to a measure, a measurement for alcohol consumption. First, we ask about frequency: “How often have you had a drink containing alcohol?” Then, we would ask the respondent how many of each of the typical drinks they have on a weekday and on a weekend. We define weekdays from Monday to Thursday and weekends from Friday to Sunday.
00:03:31: Lydia: I wish my weekends lasted from Friday until Sunday. [laughs]
00:03:37: Diana: [laughs] And then we ask them to look at some examples of how much drinks/alcohol a person might drink on a single occasion, and we ask them to tell us if they have drunk this amount or this group of drinks on a single occasion or more.
00:04:02: Lydia: And now, of course, I’m curious, what are the results? What and how much do Europeans actually drink? Do you have any remarkable examples or results that you can share?
00:04:11: Diana: Yes, I will tell you some of the top line results during the weekend. So, this is about grams of alcohol consumption. And the winners here are Ireland in the first place and Lithuania. And let’s say, the countries which show the least alcohol consumption in our measurement were Slovenia in the first place, followed by France. However, I don’t want to target these countries. This may mean, in the case of Ireland and Lithuania, that it is just more acceptable to declare your alcohol consumption. So, this may be subject to interviewer effects. This is not an ESS problem exclusively. This is a problem of every face-to-face survey, you know, that sometimes people feel self-conscious about some questions. And here probably, yeah in some countries, there is more self-consciousness about declaring your your alcohol consumption.
00:05:15: Lydia: So maybe Irish and Lithuanian people are more honest with respect to their alcohol consumption?
00:05:22: Diana: Probably.
00:05:23: Lydia: Okay. Yeah, that’s [laughs] that’s interesting, especially when you talk about stereotypes of [laughs] which country is is the best drinker and which one isn’t. Uhm, but of course, now this is a podcast for the mainly German audience: Can you also tell us where Germany ranks in there?
00:05:41: Diana: Yes, sure. So, that’s why this, we can think this may be subject to interviewer effects, because as a country Germany is in the eight lower position, so yeah, I don’t know, you may say if this would be self-consciousness or not. But just to give you the numbers and some examples. Slovenia accounts for 27 grams of alcohol consumption during the weekend as an average. Germany would be in 36 and then Ireland in 84.
00:06:21: Lydia: Oh wow, that’s quite a difference though.
00:06:23: Diana: Yes. So, Germany would be in the lower, uh, yeah in the lower consumption set.
00:06:30: Lydia: Yeah, speaking about country differences, I know that in order to measure these things, that you used typical, or not typical but you used showcards with typical drinks on them. And maybe just to explain it to the listeners of the podcast, so, I would like to describe to you briefly what this showcard looks like. Um, so for Germany there is a showcard with – now I have to check – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … 10 different drinks. For example, a big glass of beer of 0.4 l and then a small glass of beer of a quarter of a liter. Then, a bottle of beer or the so-called can, then every type of beer-mixture with lemonade or coke, which I think is also probably a very typical thing in Germany compared to other countries. Then, there is one picture of a big glass of wine of 0.2 l and a picture of a small glass of wine or glass of champagne or “Sekt,” as we call it in German, or sparkling wine, which is 0.125. Then, there is a bottle of wine, a glass of liquor, a glass of snaps, a cocktail or longdrink. So, these are the typical drinks that are on the showcard for Germans while on the Spanish showcard, there are twelve different pictures given, and already you see differences in the sizes of the different drinks. So, for example, for beer you either have the typical small “caña” you can order in Spain, which is 0.2 l, or you have something that doesn’t exist in Germany, a bottle of beer which is a liter [laughs], that you can buy in the supermarket for example. Or you have…another typical size would be, also like a draft beer, but a bigger one, which is 0.33 in in Spain and of course you also have a bottle of wine. But you also have here a division between on the one hand cocktails or so called “combinados” which are drinks that combine something like, let’s say like a coke with a strong alcohol like like rum, just to give an example. So anyway, these showcards are quite different and I am wondering now, how [laughs] how did you arrive in the ESS to these different showcards? And how is it possible to compare then between different countries if the showcards are so different?
00:09:15: Diana: Oh, that’s a question, the design of this was a beautiful process I have to say. And one that involved going to bars actually, to figure out what’s going on with the countries’ specific alcohol consumption. So, see, in the ESS we first designed a source questionnaire that is localized for the British population, uhm, then we translate or localize this measurement in every participating country. So, we wanted something that would be equivalent across countries but at the same time our aim is to reduce measurement error. And this is done by being intuitive and easy for the respondent, that our questions are easy to be answered. So, we started a process of defining which were the typical drinks in every country, starting from the source questionnaire, so in Britain – in the UK, sorry. And then we – when when this was established – we opened a long consultation in every single participating country to define their typical drinks. Uhm, when the methodological group was defining this methodology, I have a very funny story for you, you know, we went to do a qualitative study to look around in our own countries, which were the typical drinks. And you may wonder why the “Carajillo” is not here, no? Because…
00:10:51: Lydia: What is a “Carajillo”? Can you explain that to the audience?
00:10:54: Diana: A “Carajillo” is coffee with a bit with a bit of liquor or whiskey or rum, or some strong alcohol that you put in it…
00:11:03: Lydia: Like coffee with with baileys for example?
00:11:06: Diana: For instance, or a coffee with whiskey or a coffee with rum, yeah. And sometimes it’s called “café con gotas” which literally means “coffee with drops”. So this barman told me, oh yeah yeah, people call it “coffee with drops”, “café con gotas”, but that’s because they don’t want to pay the alcohol in it, what they really want is a shot.
00:11:28: Lydia: [laughs]
00:11:30: Diana: So, then we have here the the shot of liquor, no, in the card reflected. So, I mean this is just a a story, and you can imagine that the team has many stories about this this consultation. But in fact, this was a very long process, so questionnaire design takes about two years in the ESS and we have a lot of pre-testing, qualitative and quantitative, and also expert-consultation to arrive to the typical drinks in Germany and in Spain and in Lithuania and in Ireland and in the UK. So you may, so now you may ask yourself if we did it rightly and if these are the typical drinks in in Germany or not.
00:12:13: Lydia: And did you send in these teams that, let’s say, they did the barhopping, men and women to arrive to like gender specific cards because one could assume that women on average drink…or tend to have different drinking habits maybe than men?
00:12:30: Diana: Uh yes, well, that was not in the in the barhopping [laughs].
00:12:34: Lydia: [laughs]
00:12:37: Diana: So, that was just, let’s say, the qualitative exploration of the field. [laughs] We took official definitions that are available from health […] institutes and other health authorities on defining for instance binge drinking. That is, drinking in a period of time in a single event an amount of alcohol that would put your blood, uh, level of alcohol in a certain amount. And certainly, these definitions are different for men and women. So, what we did actually is to define these typical events, these typical groups of drinks that you have here in the showcard for for men and women.
00:13:23: Lydia: Okay, so, maybe I’ll just try to visualize this again. I have here the the male showcard and the female showcard for Germany. Uh, I mean, not the female showcard but the showcard for females in Germany. And to give you one example, so in the showcard for men there is a different example – six examples in total – and the first example is three big glasses of beer and two small glasses of beer is one example while for females that translates just into three big glasses of beer. And then there is similar examples and comparisons for wine, for example three glasses, three big glasses of wine, and one small glass of wine for men – and for women two big glasses of wine and a small glass of wine. And one that I find actually quite funny is example 5 in the showcard for German women which has one glass of champagne, so the “Sekt”, two small glasses of wine, one glass of liquor [laughs] and one glass of snaps. I mean, I do drink, I like champagne, you know that, but I’m wondering in what occasion I would come from one glass of cava to two glasses of wine to one glass of liquor to then arrive to one glass of snaps. Can you compare that to the Spanish showcard, do you also have there some things that seem to be cultural? Like, you know what I mean, like common ways of drinking your way through the day or the night.
00:15:09: Diana: Sure, uhm, actually the teams tried to define these typical events. And I see for instance you don’t feel very identified with it but I’m pretty sure you will feel identified with the Spanish one. Just remember our times when we were studying the PhD.
00:15:26: Lydia: [laughs]
00:15:28: Diana: So, for, uhm well, for women it would be already going to a bar and having two “cañas”, so that is two beers, then probably a glass of wine and then one “combinado” which is a cocktail or a, like a Mojito or rum and cola and so on. But actually, for for the men, I think this is a bit more typical of what men and women would drink. But what we wanted to do is to differentiate these cards because for women unfortunately the amount that they define is already smaller. So, for men we have, imagine you go to the first bar, and you take two “cañas,” so this is two beers, then you move to the next one, and you have two “chupitos,” so two shots, and then you go to the discotheque to dance, and you have two cocktails, so two mojitos or one mojito and one rum and cola.
00:16:32: Lydia: What I actually find very interesting to know is how do I – as a secondary data user – how how do I work with the data? What do I have, what information do I have in the data set? So, you had these showcards that people saw, they answered the questions, they said how many of those drinks they had or which example fit them best or whatever. But what is, what is actually in the data set? So, what am I working with if I want to analyze this information?
00:17:04: Diana: It’s a very interesting question. So, the objective of the ESS questionnaire design is to produce, uhm, easy questions for the respondent. So the respondent just needed to select their typical drinks on a weekday or during the weekend and so, and the team knew already – by producing these showcards – how many grams of alcohol they contain. So, what the teams did is to process this data and to convert the units the respondent gave as an answer into grams of alcohol. So, you can use this data in many different ways. I will just give you some ideas. Firstly, you can take the grams directly from from the questions and calculate the mean consumption, standard errors and so. I have to advise that you should always weight your data, you should always use sampling weights and they are included in these datasets. Um, apart from that you could know for instance the frequencies. So, the percentages of alcohol consumption that are larger than once a week, for instance. Or you can calculate the the units of alcohol on a on a weekday. So, you have all these measures there.
00:18:30: Lydia: Okay, this is very interesting and now I also understand how it, I guess, can be comparable across countries in my analysis. But uh, so, if I am now interested to see, interested in seeing, uhm I don’t know, how the type of drinks are distributed within a population, this I cannot see from the data? You know what I mean? Like…. For…you had these different units like beer and wine and sparkling wine and so and so forth – can I also see from the data which drinks were mentioned or not?
00:19:09: Diana: No, no, because these are just examples we created in order to make it easier for the respondents. So, I don’t think we would be able to statistically meaningfully say in average they drink four beers or…so let’s let’s talk about units or grams which is more precise for this type of measurements.
00:19:32: Lydia: Okay, so really, as a data user, what I can analyze is, how much people drink but not necessarily what they drink. Is that correct?
00:19:41: Diana: Yes, correct.
00:19:43: Lydia: Ah, that was was really, really interesting, Diana. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about this today. This was, as I said, really interesting and very entertaining. And I really hope to see you soon in a non-virtual reality, and I wish you a great day, and bye.
00:20:02: Diana: Thank you, Lydia. Thank you for having me here, and I wish also that we can test some of these showcards in a moderate way next time we see each other.
00:20:11: Lydia: [laughs] That’s a good plan. Okay, thank you. Bye bye.
00:20:18: Diana: [laughs] Bye bye.
00:20:19: Lydia: Ciao.