The Ganja Gender Gap

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Marijuana usage is up sharply among low-income males since the 2007 crash.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

So you’re a working-class American male who was hit hard in the 2007 economic crash. Maybe you lost your house, your job, or both; in any event, your prospects look bleak. How do you respond?

Vote for Donald Trump? Sure, in a lot of cases. But newly published research suggests many men in that situation have turned to a very different source of comfort: marijuana.

It reports pot smoking grew more prevalent among Americans over the first 14 years of the new century, “with all of the increase occurring from 2007 to 2014.” This trend was largely driven by “increased prevalence among men in the lowest income level,” according to a research team led by Columbia University epidemiologist Hannah Carliner.

The result was a widening of the ganja gender gap, with men increasingly more likely to smoke than women, the researchers write in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Carliner and her colleagues used data from the 2002–14 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of Americans over the age of 12. They noted the percentage of participants who reported smoking pot over the previous year, and looked for trends relating the gender, race, education level, and household income.

They report that, over the 12 years studied, “the prevalence of marijuana use increased for both men and women. In 2002, approximately 12.4 million men and 7.7 million women used marijuana in the past year. By 2014, these numbers had grown to approximately 18.4 million men (16.9 percent of the population) and 11.7 million women (10.1 percent).”

That means an additional six million men and four million women were smoking pot in 2014, compared to 2002. While that’s not really surprising, given the increased acceptance of the drug (and its legalization in several states), it’s far from the whole story.

“The increases are not only due to more individuals trying marijuana due to changing laws and attitudes,” the researchers conclude, “but also an increase in individuals using marijuana daily, especially among low-income men.”

They report the prevalence of pot smoking “sharply increased” beginning in 2007, the year the economy crashed. The largest percentage increase — 6.2 percent — was found for “men at the lowest income levels.” These working-class men, whose fortunes have yet to bounce back from the great recession, may be using pot “as a form of avoidant coping,” they write.

So while pot smoking has increased among both men and women, men — especially low-income men — are increasing their usage faster than women. As a result, the gender gap is widening.

Given the reported health risks of habitual marijuana use, the researchers consider this a concerning trend. “Recognizing times of economic downturns as particularly high risk periods for low-income men can help target screening and prevention efforts,” they write.

On a political note, the results also suggest the upcoming Trump administration may face a tricky calculus. Senator Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, has made clear his strongly anti-marijuana stance. Is he really going to crack down on pot when so many users are among the president’s base of supporters?