Why Wealthy College Kids Are More Into 'Hooking Up' Than Their Less-Privileged Classmates

The New York Times’ recent article on the hookup culture at the University of Pennsylvania has garnered many fiery responses, with current and former Penn students blasting the piece for everything from its casual treatment of rape to its reliance on anonymity

Even the Daily Pennsylvania — UPenn’s student newspaper — has come out swinging against the Times, noting:

The response has been largely critical, and for good reason: In her failed attempt to glimpse a part of Penn’s culture, Taylor drew conclusions that inaccurately represented and overly generalized the University’s student body.

Despite its many issues, one tidbit deeply buried in the article deserves more attention.

According to the article, two researchers who followed a group of women at the University of Indiana from their freshman to senior years found that “women from wealthier backgrounds were much more likely to hook up, more interested in postponing adult responsibilities and warier of serious romantic commitment than their less-affluent classmates. The women from less-privileged backgrounds looked at their classmates who got drunk and hooked up as immature.”

In an excellent breakdown of the Times’ article on Jezebel, writer Tracy Moore sums this up as Rich ladies like to PARTY, poor girls have to keep it real…virginal. Moore notes that she finds class-based attitudes towards casual sex “actually really fascinating,” although “it’s almost never explored.”

While the research on privilege and hooking up is sparse at best, a 2009 study from Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth A. Armstrong — the two researchers quoted in the Times — sheds some light on this often overlooked field. After speaking with a diverse group of women at a Midwest university, here’s what they found:

  • The dominant college culture “reflects the beliefs of the more privileged classes.”
  • Less privileged women’s disinterest in hooking up could be “characterised by a faster transition into adulthood.”
  • For less privileged women not interested in hooking up, “college life could be experienced as mystifying, uncomfortable, and alienating.”
  • 40% of less privileged women left the university, compared to 5% of more privileged women, and “In all cases, mismatch between the sexual culture of women’s hometowns and that of college was a factor in the decision to leave.”
  • Many less privileged women left the university because of pressure from boyfriends or husbands back home, or to end hometown speculation that they were now a “slut.”
  • Because less privileged women “had less exposure to the notion that the college years should be set aside solely for educational and career development” they often did not view “serious relationships as incompatible with college life.”

While the entire report is fascinating and worth a read, its findings are not without opponents. Although not a direct response to Hamilton and Armstrong’s paper, a 2012 study on college sexual activity from researchers at Georgia Southern University found that social class is not a “significant predictor of hooking up.” Clearly, this is an area that still requires some study.

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