College Students Move Up the Social Ladder by Binge Drinking, Says Study

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2012-08-20 10:33

New research presented at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association reports that college students who binge drink are happier than their non-binge drinking college peers. However, perhaps “college peers” is a misnomer as the researchers point out that social status appears to be directly linked to binge drinking, leaving non-binge drinkers feeling outside of some important social circles.

In a press release issued by the American Sociological Association, Carolyn L. Hsu, co-author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at Colgate University states that, "Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college. It's what the most powerful, wealthy, and happy students on campus do. This may explain why it's such a desirable activity. When lower status students binge drink, they may be trying to tap into the benefits and the social satisfaction that those kids from high status groups enjoy. And, our findings seem to indicate that, to some extent, they succeed."

According to Dr. Hsu’s research, the “most powerful, wealthy and happy” students on campus are predominately white, heterosexual males affiliated with Greek organizations, whereas the least powerful, less happy students include financially-strapped; female; non-white; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ); and non-Greek affiliated undergraduates.

The results of the study are based on a 2009 survey of approximately 1,600 undergraduates at an exclusive Northeastern residential liberal arts college that required anonymity for use of the data in the study. The survey was a relative measure of social satisfaction experienced by the students via a number of questions relating to campus life.

One significant finding of the survey was the social importance of alcohol at the level of consumption defined as binge drinking used by students as a way of “fitting in” within particular social circles where heavy drinking is considered “cool.”

In the study, binge drinking at the college averaged at 13.7 drinks per week, whereas non-binge drinking averaged at 4.2 drinks per week. For men and women to be considered to be binge drinkers, they have to consume a minimum of 5 and 4 drinks respectively in a single drinking session. Previous research has shown that females only need to consume 4 drinks to have the same effect as a male having consumed 5 drinks.

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