Gambling and Problem Gambling Across the Lifespan

Research and Data
Author(s): John W. Welte, Grace M. Barnes, Marie-Cecile O. Tidwell, and Joseph H. Hoffman
Year Published: 2011


The Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) research group conducted a telephone survey of gambling behavior and pathology in adults in the U.S. Interviews were conducted in 1999–2000 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Interviewers contacted 4,338 eligible households containing a resident 18 or older. The respondents were recruited by selecting randomly from among the residents aged 18 years and older in each household.


Quantitative Data


In the past year:

  • 60% of 14–15 year-old respondents have gambled.
  • 89% of 22-30 year-old respondents have gambled.
  • 62% of 71+ year-old respondents have gambled.
  • 2x the rate of frequent gambling among males compared with females.
    • 28% of males engage in frequent gambling, as compared with 13% of females.
  • In the past year:
    • 66% of Asians have gambled.
    • 67% of Blacks have gambled.
    • 83% of Native Americans have gambled.
  • Rates of frequent gambling:
    • 14% of Asian.
    • 19% of whites.
    • 25% of Blacks.
    • 32% of Native Americans.
  • Rates of problem gambling:
    • 1.9% of whites.
    • 5.3% of Asians.
    • 5.4% of Native Americans.
    • 5.5% of Blacks.


Risk Factors

  • Identifying as Native American.
  • Identifying as Black.
  • Aged 20-30.
  • Lower SES (Socioeconomic Status).


Protective Factors

  • Higher SES.


Qualitative Data

  • Serious gambling involvement:
    • Rises in teens,
    • Peaks well into adulthood (30+ years old), and
    • Falls off among those over 70.
  • Frequent gambling is highest in the age range of 31–60.
  • Problem gambling had a much higher co-morbidity with conduct disorder if it started early in life.
Socioeconomic (SES)
  • Gambling involvement tends to decline as SES rises.
  • Frequent and problem gambling become more common as SES gets lower.
  • Lower SES respondents have higher odds of being a frequent gambler than higher SES respondents.
Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Gambling becomes prevalent at a much earlier age than drinking.
  • After age 21, problem gambling is more prevalent than alcohol dependence.
  • Male gambling involvement escalates earlier in life and have higher rates of gambling at a younger age than females.
  • The odds of gambling in the past year were significantly higher for males than females.
  • Frequent gambling is near its highest prevalence by:
    • 18-19 years-old for males.
    • 30+ year-olds for females.
  • The odds of gambling in the past year were significantly higher for whites than for blacks or Asians.
  • The odds of frequent gambling are higher for blacks and Native Americans than for whites.


Identified Challenges

  • Study had a much smaller number of respondents identifying as Native American.


Identified Conclusions

  • After age 21 problem gambling is considerably more common than alcohol dependence, although alcohol dependence has received much more attention.
  • Early-onset problem gambling had a closer link to general deviance than to late-onset problem gambling.
  • It is reasonable to speculate that the age-related decline in gambling is a developmental effect, and a part of the general decline in problem behaviors which occurs with age.
Socioeconomic Status (SES)
  • Lower SES Americans may be pursuing gambling as a way to make money, leading to more difficulties than if their motivation were strictly recreational.


Identified Recommendations

  • Given the persistence of frequent gambling and problem gambling through adulthood, increased prevention and intervention efforts are warranted.


Read Full Research Article


Welte JW, Barnes GM, Tidwell MC, Hoffman JH. Gambling and problem gambling across the lifespan. J Gambl Stud. 2011 Mar;27(1):49-61. doi: 10.1007/s10899-010-9195-z. PMID: 20499144; PMCID: PMC4383132.

Further Reading