Women's informal surveillance of alcohol consumption in intimate heterosexual relationships during the early parenting period

Serena Vicario, Marian Peacock, Penny Buykx, Petra Sylvia Meier, Paul Bissell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Alcohol consumption may play an important part in intimate heterosexual relationships, including regulating partners' emotional well-being and sustaining relational bonds. Quantitative studies consistently indicate that women play a prominent role in the informal surveillance of their partners' drinking. This paper aims to contribute to the evidence-base by examining possible meanings and reasons underpinning the surveillance of drinking in the early parenting period. In doing so, we draw from the results of a study conducted in Yorkshire (UK), exploring accounts of alcohol drinking practices in women up to three years after giving birth. This is a phase of family readjustment, in which childcare is at its most time- and labour-intensive. Free Association Narrative Interviews (FANI) were conducted between 2017 and 2018 with 21 working mothers from different backgrounds, each interviewed twice about daily routines and drinking practices. Narrative and thematic content analysis cast light on the gendered aspects of surveillance of alcohol consumption. Participants described seeking to exert informal surveillance over their partners' drinking and to set boundaries around what was considered an acceptable level of consumption. Their accounts reflected how traditional gender performances and expectations were relationally constructed through drinking practices. Women's attempts at surveillance were generally articulated in non-confrontational language. However, in the interviews, women expressed disappointment and unhappiness that partners' drinking activities were associated with an unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities. Through informal surveillance of drinking, we argue, women performed actions of health-risk management within the family. Most importantly, informal surveillance appeared to be a strategy which sought to negotiate a fairer allocation of household labour, and greater equity between the partners. Findings demonstrates how inequalities in power play out and permeate intimate relationships, re-affirming women's traditional role in the regulation of drinking. Drinking practices, we conclude, provide valuable insights into how gender operates in the sphere of intimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114499
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date20 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


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