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3 April 2012updated 26 Sep 2015 7:46pm

Who spends the most on beer?

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

By Alex Hern

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.

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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