Glass Half Full - Binge Drinking Frat Boys Are Happier Than Most
August 20, 2012

Binge Drinking: Bringing Students Together While Helping Them Forget

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

There´s a time and a place for everything. In college, for instance, many young people feel the urge to imbibe in a few substances which they may or may not have previous experience with. Specifically, many colleges and universities have noticed, and even set out to combat, binge drinking among their students. Now, a new study from the Colgate University in New York suggests students may engage in binge drinking as an extension of their happiness, as opposed to an act of desperation or depression.

According to this new study, students see binge drinking as a sign of high status and something even alumni participate in.

“Binge drinking is a symbolic proxy for high status in college,” said co-author of the study Carolyn L. Hsu in a statement. Hsu is an associate professor of sociology at Colgate University, New York.

“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 the study, wealthy, white, binge drinking heterosexual frat boys were overall happier with their collegiate experiences than their poorer, non-white teetotaling Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered, or Questioning (LGBTQ) counterparts who did not rush. In addition, this study found that students from the higher status groups–such as the aforementioned white, wealthy frat boys– were more likely to binge drink than their fellow students from a lower status group, such as the non-white, non-greek students.

“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.”

According to the study, when lower-status students binge drink, they have a higher social satisfaction than their lower-class peers who choose to do something else from Thursday evening to early Monday morning. In fact, their social satisfaction nearly reaches the levels of their higher-status classmates who don´t engage in binge drinking. While these lower-status students may drink to feel a part of  a higher-status group, Hsu also suggests they may be drinking to forget the fact that they belong to a lower class of students.

All in all, this study suggests that those students who engaged in binge drinking were overall happier with their collegiate experiences and social standing than those students who did not drink, regardless of social standing.

“Among all groups, we found that binge drinking and social satisfaction were strongly connected,” said Hsu.

To reach this conclusion, Hsu and team took a survey of more than 1,600 undergraduate students from a select group of Northeastern residential liberal arts colleges in 2009. While binge drinking is a greater part of the collegiate lifestyle at some schools more than others, the results of the study remain the same, says Hsu.

“Drinking culture is campus specific, but our results suggest that binge drinking and social satisfaction may also be very much associated at similar predominately white colleges with high binge drinking rates, a large Greek presence, and a residential campus.”

This study even suggests that binge drinking can cause some students to downplay the effects of a collegiate environment which is unfriendly to their class or status. For instance, a non-white student who binge drinks will have a better experience and have a stronger social satisfaction even if they attend a predominately white school.

“Minority students and members of the LGBTQ community, more than other low status students, often face discrimination and struggle with their sense of belonging on predominately white, heterosexual campuses,” Hsu said. “This may be lessening the potential ameliorating impact of binge drinking on low status.”

In conclusion, Hsu said, “Students in all groups consistently liked college more when they participated in the campuses´ binge drinking culture.”

The paper, "Social Status, Binge Drinking, and Social Satisfaction among College Students," will be presented on Monday, Aug. 20, at 2:30 p.m. MDT in Denver, Colorado, at the American Sociological Association's 107th Annual Meeting.