A third of young people abstain from alcohol and the proportion of them who have never tried it has almost doubled in the past decade, according to one of the largest studies of youth drinking.

Today’s 16-24 year-olds are the most sober in recent history, consuming considerably less than their parents, a study involving almost 10,000 youngsters found.

Researchers found that 29% called themselves non-drinkers, up from 18% in 2005, while half of those surveyed said they had not drunk in the past week, up from 35% in 2005.

It also found that 17% said that they had always been teetotal, up from 9%.

Experts from University College London studied data from the annual Health Survey for England and found that fewer youngsters were drinking harmful amounts.

In 2005 two in five (43%) admitted drinking above the recommended limits, but this fell to just 28% 10 years later. Binge drinking rates also decreased from 27% to 18% over the same period.

“When you look at the trends in the population, you see just how stark this is,” Linda Ng Fat, from University College London and lead author of the study, said. “Previously it was mainly the elderly who were more likely to be abstainers. Now 16 to 24-year-olds are the second biggest group.

“Increases in non-drinking among young people were found across a broad range of groups, including those living in northern or southern regions of England, among the white population, those in full-time education, in employment and across all social classes and healthier groups.

“That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may becoming more mainstream among young people which could be caused by cultural factors.

“The increase in young people who choose not to drink alcohol suggests that this behaviour maybe becoming more acceptable, whereas risky behaviours such as binge drinking may be becoming less normalised.”