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Oh, great. Students who binge drink say they have more fun

August 20, 2012|By Rosie Mestel | Los Angeles Times
  • College kids who binge drink are more satisfied with their social life at school, a study finds. The authors think it's all about fitting in with the popular set.
College kids who binge drink are more satisfied with their social life at… (Andy Rain / EPA )

“Binge-drinking college students are happier than their non-binge-drinking peers,” reports a study presented this week at a meeting of the American Sociological Assn. in Denver.

And the reason? “It may be because, at these schools, binge drinking is associated with high status and binge drinkers are happier with their college social experience than their non-binge-drinking peers,” the authors go out on a limb in explaining.

Young people like drinking -- news flash! Underage drinking was epidemic when I was a teen growing up in England: We’d buy hard cider to drink by the ruined castle walls until we were old enough to sneak our way into the pub. All this illicit boozing certainly made Friday nights more fun, but it led to some pretty risky and idiotic behaviors. Well do I remember that Halloween night when a bunch of us wandered over the dark hills and almost fell over the edge of one of the many chalk pits up there. To name one clueless example of many.

So is there more to this report than stating the known -- that young kids find binge drinking fun, no matter how silly it may be?  The authors, sociology professor Carolyn L. Hsu of Colgate University in New York state and Landon Reid, a former Colgate faculty member, think the behavior in college is tied to social status. And fitting in.

Here are some facts from the study, conducted at a northeastern liberal arts college and based on surveys from 1,595 students:

-- Fully 64% of students at this college indulged in binge drinking -- defined as consuming four drinks for women and five drinks for men -- in a single session at least once within a two-week period.

-- Students in high-status groups (defined by the authors as white, wealthy, male, heterosexual and in the college Greek system) were more likely to binge drink than those in lower status groups (minorities, poorer, female, not heterosexual, not in the Greek system). This was especially the case for -- wait for it -- fraternities and sororities.  

-- Among students in high-status groups, those who didn’t binge drink reported less social satisfaction than those who did.

-- Among students in lower status groups,  those who did binge drink reported more social satisfaction than those who didn’t.

The data, to the authors’ minds, suggest that students believe that if they really want to be a full-fledged member of the cool college set they need to binge drink -- or as they put it in the draft of their report (which isn’t yet published), “binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high social status in college. ... Low-status students may be using binge drinking as a vehicle for social mobility.”

The authors also note that “drinking behavior on college campuses is tightly integrated with the social norms of those campuses. The most powerful groups on campus create those norms.”

And, they say, “a major question for institutional policy and decision-makers is whether binge drinking is the preferred form of assimilating low status and marginalized students into the social mainstream of campus life.” We take it that this is a rhetorical question, but we'd imagine the administrators will have their work cut out for them if they want to change the way things are.

Whether any of this is news or not … ewww. Doesn’t exactly make one yearn for those good old college days. 

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