Who spends the most on beer?

And other questions, answered by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has released March's edition of its Focus on Prices and Spending, which contains a fascinating cross national comparison of spending habits between four countries: the US, UK, Canada and Japan.

Some conclusions are precisely what you would expect. The average American spends 6.9 per cent of their total out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare, over four times the average Brit, who spends 1.4 per cent. Canada and Japan lie in the middle, with 4.1 and 4.3 per cent respectively.

The Bureau does point out that not all of this discrepancy is down to wonderful NHS versus evil private providers:

The health care share for the United States may be higher because in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan medical costs are paid indirectly through nationalized health care options, and medical costs paid indirectly are not included in out-of-pocket health care expenditures.

Although they fail to mention that the US does also have a considerable amount of medical costs paid indirectly, in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and tax deductions on employer purchased insurance. In fact, the US's public expenditure is almost as high as the UK's.

Another unsurprising finding is amount spent on booze. Guess who is number one? That's right; binge Britain.

Expenditure on alcohol is 4.8 per cent in the UK, compared to 1.8 per cent in the US, 1.6 per cent in Japan, and 3.1 per cent in Canada. Crucially, however, these figures measure expenditure, not consumption. VAT in the UK is higher than any state sales tax, and we also have particularly high alcohol duty on top of that, which may mean that alcohol consumption isn't that much higher here than Canada. It does seem like an inescapable conclusion that we drink more than the US, though.

For other categories, the findings are more counter intuitive. On housing, the Bureau writes:

The United States had the highest housing expenditure share, 29.3 percent of total expenditures in 2009. The United Kingdom and Canada followed, with 24.1 percent and 24.0 percent, respectively. Housing was the largest expenditure component in all three countries. Japan had the lowest housing share, 21.6 percent, of the four countries and was the only country to spend more on food than housing.

Given the USA has vast tracts of land where housing is cheaper than anything comparable in Britain, this seems surprising - except that in many of those places, wages are comparably lower. Additionally, Japan is famous for having some of the most expensive prices per acre in the developed world, with some school playing fields being worth more than the total everything else owned by the school. As ever, there are more questions than answers.

On food:

Japan's consumers spent 21.8 percent of their total expenditures on food in 2009. Of total spending on food in Japan, 21.4 percent was for food outside the home. The United Kingdom had the second-highest share: 19.9 percent of total expenditures on food. Canada, with 14.8 percent, and the United States, with 14.0 percent had the lowest food expenditure shares among the countries studied.

Japan also had the highest ratio of spending on food at home versus away from home, with over 3.5 times as much spending on home cooking as restaurants, cafes and take-aways. The US was the lowest, with a ratio of just 1.4, and the UK lay in the middle of the two, spending just over twice as much on food at home as out.

One final statistic, presented without comment: the average Briton spends 15 per cent of their total expenditure on "culture/entertainment, and recreation", compared to just 6 per cent in America, 8 per cent in Canada, and 11 per cent in Japan.

Hat tip to Brad Plumer of the Washington Post

Rick Santorum drinks a craft beer in Wisconsin. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA