Well-educated parents of white children were most likely to allow their children to drink at 14, the research by the UCL Institute of Education and Pennsylvania State University in the US found.
Parents who abstained from alcohol tended not to allow their children to drink, but among those who did drink, those fathers and mothers who drank heavily were no more likely to let their children drink alcohol than light or moderate drinkers.
Current guidelines recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is best, with children not drinking any alcohol before the age of 15.
As wine is often shared at the dinner table during the festive season, the study's authors were keen to point out that while having better educated parents is generally a protective factor for children, previous research has shown that those who start drinking early are more likely to fail at school, have behaviour issues, as well as alcohol and substance problems in adulthood.
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After analysing data on more than 10,000 children born in the UK at the turn of the new century, they found that 17% of UK parents have let their children drink alcohol by the age of 14.
Parents of white children who were employed, had more educational qualifications, and who drank alcohol themselves, were more likely to allow their adolescent children to drink than unemployed parents, those with fewer educational qualifications, and ethnic minority parents.
Professor Jennifer Maggs, who led the study, said: "Parents of socially advantaged children may believe that allowing children to drink will teach them responsible use or may in fact inoculate them against dangerous drinking.
"However, there is little research to support these ideas."
Katherine Brown, chief executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: "This is important guidance because alcohol can harm children given their bodies and brains are not yet fully developed.
"It is worrying to see that this advice may not be getting across to parents, who are trying to do their best to teach their children about alcohol."