Why do some colleges have persistently high levels of binge drinking? 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, suggests new research that was presented at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
“Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college,” said Carolyn L. Hsu, co-author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at Colgate University. “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.”
In addition, students from higher status groups were more likely than their peers from lower status groups to binge drink. “Students, who are considered more socially powerful, drink more,” said Hsu. “Binge drinking then becomes associated with high status and the ‘cool’ students on campus.”
However, the study found that when students from lower status groups engaged in binge drinking, their social satisfaction was higher than that of their non-binge drinking peers from lower status groups and more similar to the levels of their higher status classmates, including binge drinkers and non-binge drinkers. Hsu said binge drinking tended to attenuate the negative effects of being from a low status group on students’ college social experience.
Conversely, students from higher status groups who did not binge drink, were less happy with their social lives than students from those groups that did binge drink.
“Among all groups, we found that binge drinking and social satisfaction were strongly connected,” Hsu said.
The study relied on a survey of nearly 1600 undergraduates attending a selective North-eastern residential liberal arts college in 2009.