A simple theory of college, elites, parties, women, and fraternities

by on March 28, 2014 at 3:01 am in Education | Permalink

Harry from Crooked Timber writes:

The authors lived for a year in a “party” dorm in a large midwestern flagship public university (not mine) and kept up with the women in the dorm till after they had graduated college. The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).

The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up. The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process. Furthermore, the non-party women on the party floor are, although reasonably numerous, individually isolated—they feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the heavy demands of the party scene. The authors document that the working class students who thrive are those who transfer to regional colleges near their birth homes.

The post is interesting throughout.  The book he is discussing is Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, which I have just ordered.

Alexei Sadeski March 28, 2014 at 3:08 am

Good god, the confirmation bias is strong with that one.

TallDave March 28, 2014 at 11:16 am

Yeah, this was interesting, but started from way too many flawed assumptions.

I would bet you could track these majors and find an answer to how generational income distribution turnover happens, i.e. this is probably a good guide to moving out of the top deciles.

CBBB March 28, 2014 at 3:35 am

The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault);

The legal drinking age in my province in Canada is 19. Could this also help explain why Fraternaties at Canadian universities are largely jokes when compared to those on most American campuses?

bjk March 28, 2014 at 4:26 am

No. Canadian education is far more preprofessional just in general, and college is more competitive because the selection process is at college itself, not as much through high school grades.

CBBB March 28, 2014 at 4:38 am

So high school grades in the US play a role in finding a post-college career? As opposed to college GPA?

bjk March 28, 2014 at 4:54 am

Not really, but prestige is more a factor in the US, with far more selective admission system and more private colleges. Canada is more of a “accept everybody to UT and see who can stick it out.” The only really selective divisions are the engineering schools, which is why you’ll see “UT Engineering” jackets around Toronto, which is pretty much unthinkable in the US.

CBBB March 28, 2014 at 5:06 am

On the other hand you end up with a legion of university graduates in Canada peddling shoes in the local shopping mall or something similar.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 6:31 am

I know that Canada is at or near the top of countries ranked by % of population with tertiary degree, so the high dropout rate implied here was surprising to me. I think the fact of the matter is almost every country’s universities have less than great student retention rates. The latest data I could find for Canada from 2008 says there was a 25% postsecondary dropout rate. That’s not great, but much better than the U.S., which has a graduation rate around 50% at best. Maybe this has something to do with fewer associate’s programs in the U.S., or perhaps we have more of the private colleges (including online ones) that market to people they know are not prepared to succeed.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/college-dropout-rate-at-25/article1350410/

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/business/economy/dropping-out-of-college-and-paying-the-price.html

CBBB March 28, 2014 at 6:55 am

Well…I don’t think a high dropout rate is neccessarily implied. You can have people who were accepted to study engineering and they find it too difficult and slide down to some lesser major – they still graduate but not with the degree they initially intended. Or you have people graduate but with medicore grades, thus rending their degree effectively worthless for career purposes. So “sticking it out” can impy more than simply the choice between stay-in-school/drop out.

Any way, I still don’t think that Canadian students are not partying and drinking it’s just that the lower drinking age means fraternaties are less important so you don’t have these sorts of social scenes so much.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 7:49 am

Ok. I assumed bjk meant that most anyone can get into UT, but that the bar itself was much higher to even enter the engineering program. Lots of junk degrees here, too. And there a good chance the student left with $100k in debt.

But your point is well taken. I went to college in Ann Arbor. Occasionally we would go to Windsor to hang out, where we could drink legally. Guess what, we acted like adults. For college freshman, it was a much more sane scene than the amped up frat atmosphere.

Doug M March 28, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes. But the college attended carries far more weight with employers than college GPA.

dan1111 March 28, 2014 at 4:36 am

American fraternities are definitely empowered by being the primary source of alcohol for many students.

However, for me the absurdity of this is not that dormitories ban drinking, but that under age drinking at fraternities is widely tolerated. Serving alcohol to minors is treated as a serious offense in any other context, but fraternities do so regularly, with often deleterious consequences, and it is ignored. These organizations are even endorsed and supported by universities.

GC March 28, 2014 at 5:51 am

It remains the ridiculous bit that in the USA you can buy a gun at 14, at 18 you can be sent oversea to shoot at people, but when you con back from deployment you cannot buy yourself a beer.

Brian March 28, 2014 at 6:00 am

You have to be 21 to buy a pistol from a licensed dealer in the USA. An 18 year old may under some circumstances buy a pistol from an associate who is not in the business of commerce in guns.

dan1111 March 28, 2014 at 6:14 am

Regardless of what you think of the U.S. drinking age, the status quo in regard to fraternities is dumb.

“In the USA you can buy a gun at 14″ is not really true. You have to be 18 to purchase a shotgun or rifle from a dealer and 21 for handguns. Private sales and possession are not under federal jurisdiction and vary by state. But only in Montana can a 14 year old legally purchase and possess a gun. It is not ridiculous for a teenager to own a gun in areas where hunting is a popular sport.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 8:06 am

Yes it is. Driving is also a popular sport in Montana — you see what I’m saying? That 14 year old can use his damn parent’s gun if he wants to go hunting.

dan1111 March 28, 2014 at 8:21 am

@Jan, given that nearly all 14 year old live at home under their parents, how does it make a real difference whether the teenager who goes hunting is the one who “owns” the gun? Of course, the real issue is a teen going out and buying a gun without parental consent, but do you have any evidence that making this illegal is actually a useful policy? It is already illegal to buy a gun from any shop, so they could only buy one informally from someone they know–transactions that are unlikely to be prevented by law anyway.

It is legal for a 14 year old to own a car in most states, and even drive it (on private property).

Just Another MR Commentor March 28, 2014 at 8:28 am

Huckleberry Finn left home at the age of 12, I don’t think it’s given that al 14 year olds live with their parents.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 9:29 am

It doesn’t make a difference whether he owns the gun he hunts with. The point is that the 14 year old shouldn’t be able to buy the gun himself. Would you agree that a 14 year old might be more likely to do something idiotic with a gun he buys than his 45 year old father? Do we have any evidence that putting an age limit on anything is a useful policy? Would you agree that if we cut down on the number of places a 14 year old can obtain a gun (and possibly do something stupid with it), it will likely cut down on the number of guns 14 year olds obtain (and do stupid things with)?

Your second paragraph has begun to solve this problem. In each state we shall implement mandatory licenses for the use of guns with required training courses and periodic testing.

dave smith March 28, 2014 at 9:30 am

Jan, can you document any problems associated with Montana’s law? Is there a rash of crime, suicides, accidents, etc. unique to Montana as a result of the law? If not, or if you can’t document such problems, then does the truth matter to you?

GC March 28, 2014 at 9:57 am

“But only in Montana can a 14 year old legally purchase and possess a gun. It is not ridiculous for a teenager to own a gun in areas where hunting is a popular sport”

Montana is in the USA so I stand with my “in the USA you can buy a gun at 14″. not to mention, legal limits are for licensed sellers, as far as I know unlicensed sale is lawful and doesn’t have minimum age requirement.

So, yea, you CAN buy guns at 14 in some part of the US (most parts, if fro an unlicensed seller), you can indeed be deployer to war at 18, but you can’t buy yourself a drink util 21. Sorry, i still think this is ridiculous.

dan1111 March 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

@GC, 0.3% of the U.S. population can buy a gun at age 14 under very limited circumstances. Boiling that down to “in the USA you can buy a gun at 14″ is not really accurate. Many states do have further regulations on unlicensed sale, including age limits. Montana is the only state where a 14 year old could both buy and legally own a gun, even considering unlicensed sale.

@JustAnotherMRCommentor, I did say “nearly all”, for the express purpose of avoiding being humiliated by fictional counter-examples.

@Jan, I don’t object to requiring parental consent for minors to purchase/own guns. That seems like a good idea with no real downside. But it doesn’t follow that Montana’s law is “ridiculous”. I think evidence that the law is doing harm is required for that.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 10:38 am

Dave and dan111, one does not need a trial to know that it is unwise to allow 14 year olds to buy firearms. By your account, there is no particular evidence that 14 is an inappropriate cutoff, so why not 12, or 10? Some things just don’t make sense.

Since we are talking about evidence, I go back to my earlier suggestion that each state should implement mandatory licenses for the use of all guns with required training and periodic testing, just like driving. Could you say with a straight face that there is not good evidence that many people who own and use guns do not know how to properly handle and store their weapons?

dan1111 March 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

@Jan, the correct question is: will those programs increase the proper storage and handling of guns? Will they actually reduce bad behavior, or will they just make life more onerous for responsible people? Evidence really is needed to prove that such programs would work.

As I said, I think requiring parental consent for gun ownership for people under 18 makes sense. But I am skeptical that it would meaningfully “cut down on the number of guns 14 year olds obtain (and do stupid things with)”. Remember, they already have to be 18 to buy a gun at a store. This only covers the limited situation of private sales between two individuals, which the law can do very little to police anyway. I just do not think the amount of outrage over this is in line with evidence of the risks involved.

Ricardo March 28, 2014 at 11:22 am

“Montana is in the USA so I stand with my ‘in the USA you can buy a gun at 14′”

Then you must also acknowledge that in the USA you cannot buy a gun at all (since, for example, NYC is in the USA). You must also acknowledge that in the USA you cannot legally wed someone of the same sex, and also that in the USA you may indeed wed someone of the same sex. You must also acknowledge that in the USA you may legally purchase marijuana for recreational use, and also that you can’t.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Re evidence: The CDC produced a study in the 90s showing that having a firearm in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide. Shortly thereafter and as a direct result of the report, its ability to conduct firearms studies was almost completely eliminated by Congress. Its general firearms research budget decreased by 96%.

zz March 28, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Good thing you’re on the case, teenagers killing people with guns is a big problem in Montana!

Jan March 28, 2014 at 4:53 pm

No biggie. One teenager shooting someone, two teenagers shooting someone, yada yada. When we get to 25, I put my foot down.

http://www.kbzk.com/news/great-falls-teen-charged-in-connection-with-shooting-of-teenage-girl/

Larry Siegel March 31, 2014 at 2:44 am

I’m glad the firearms research budget was cut by 96%. Here’s the result of my research on the topic. A very large majority of the people who buy guns will use them for legitimate purposes, such as self-defense and hunting. The rest will go kill somebody. Where should I send the bill for my work?

George March 28, 2014 at 3:46 am

Thank you for reminding me why I removed Crooked Timber from my blogroll. Harry has been writing about this conspiracy theory for years now — affluent students join fraternities, get 4.0s in easy majors, and get lucrative jobs at oil companies… or something? Throw in a paragraph about rape culture and you have the crux of the theory.

All it does it remind me of how out of touch some people are with regular American college students. If your sample size of college parties is greater than N = 1 you know how utterly hilarious his analysis is.

(This post was written from the campus of a flagship research University.)

Steve Sailer March 28, 2014 at 3:59 am

Crooked Timber authors never got invited to a party more than once in college.

Vernunft March 28, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Oh, so much this. Thinking that those girls just MUST be raped at those parties, because they never, ever wanted to date HIM. They’re obviously saving themselves and any sexual activity must be forced.

It’s…adorable, really.

dan1111 March 28, 2014 at 7:11 am

Claiming “conspiracy” is dumb. However, colleges undoubtedly benefit from rich students and rich donor parents, and I do think it is reasonable to posit that this influences the difficulty of the coursework and the attitude toward fraternities.

Z March 28, 2014 at 7:14 am

The relative that universities count on the most is Uncle Sam. Pry their lips off the government teet and you get a very different college business.

wiki March 28, 2014 at 8:01 am

It’s interesting how the authors try to make fraternities the bad guys when it’s likely that social clubs could be created even without them. The really core problem is grade inflation. With no grade inflation and consistent standards, meritocratic admissions would have to be the norm or large numbers would simply fail the first year and there would be no easy A degrees.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 8:15 am

I agree grade inflation is a thing, maybe even a problem, but that is why we have standardized tests. Colleges have a fairly good sense of how smart someone is coming in. The real problem is you can’t very well predict who will fail out of college. There are plenty of perfectly capable people who get sidetracked with the party culture, have unexpected family obligations, discover they want to do something else with their lives, or–more often–are just plain lazy. Once one leaves home their world completely changes and it is hard to know how they will handle that. In cases where the student doesn’t leave home and is trying to go to college while working a lot, for example, they discover it is harder to balance it all than they expected.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 8:17 am

I just realized that you were referring to grade inflation at the college level, not high school. I see your point, but I think the real world does a decent job separating the smart achievers who actually learn something in college from those who coast through or drop out.

Z March 28, 2014 at 10:20 am

Grade inflation is a consequence, not a cause. The schools want the checks little Johnny gets from the government. Nonsense majors and easy grading ensure Johnny sticks around for a couple of years.

As soon as you start putting people between the buyer and seller, particularly people with guns, you get all sorts of weird outcomes.

Jan March 28, 2014 at 10:44 am

But your statement would apply to colleges trying to squeeze money out of people whether or not there were government loans. “The school wants the checks little Johnny gets from his parents/ grandparents/summer job.”

Corvus March 28, 2014 at 8:27 am

Wow. And here I was just thinking how dead-on the whole thesis got the picture. Here I was thinking that this was not something new, that it was exactly what I observed 40 years ago. Although I thought the bit about the family contact jobs was illuminating in the clarity of the statement. And then I thought, to see it stated so clearly, how very interesting.

And here I was thinking, well, this wouldn’t hold true at every university – at least not as an absolute – although a trend might still exist. After all, we probably would agree that cultures vary from U to U, eh?

But, I guess I shouldn’t be thinking any of that. It’s all garbage conspiracy analysis. Ok, then.

EC March 28, 2014 at 3:32 pm

I went to a university with a very weak Greek scene and my sister went to one with a very strong one. Neither of us are the partying type & did not join any of the social fraternities/sororities, but I certainly recognize the situation described by the thesis of the original post even though I can’t say it’s universal. Nope, I don’t know anyone who was a trust fund baby, partied through school and got mediocre grades, and still went on to a nice cushy banking job, nope, doesn’t sound familiar at all…

TallDave March 28, 2014 at 11:20 am

Yep, same here. When you start from the assumption skilled labor isn’t value-added enough for studying or choice of major to matter…

Harry Brighouse March 31, 2014 at 10:42 pm

George

I presume you’re in a rhetoric department.
Read the book with a group of students, some of them in the Greek scene, and see what they say.

Steve Sailer March 28, 2014 at 3:57 am

Since the 1950s, Rice U. has a dorm system modeled upon some Ivy League ones that’s intended to be a compromise between the anomie of dorms and the particularism of fraternities, which were banned in William Marsh Rice’s will.

It’s like a four year version of the famous Robbers’ Cave social science experiment in young male bonding. Most students are assigned randomly to a dorm (grandly called a “college”) and most stay in that dorm for four years, which generates a fair degree of group loyalty and stability. Yet, each dorm has about the same range of personalities (although, of course, students swear that each dorm is wildly different in personality).

These randomly assigned quasi-fraternities seem to be an improvement on Rice’s original system of banning fraternities with nothing to substitute for them among young people craving camaraderie and structure. In the first half of the 20th Century, students kept forming their own covert fraternities (under guise of being “literary appreciation societies” and the like) with no national guidance from adult brothers. After a couple of pledges died in a “literary society” initiation ritual around 1956, the “college system” was ginned up.

It seemed to be relatively satisfactory. It was kind of like being drafted into the Army with a bunch of strangers and put into the 1st Infantry Division and told you’re the Big Red One and that if you stick together you are much better than those dorks in the 2nd Infantry Division, much less those complete losers in the 3rd Infantry Division. When you are 18 years old, that kind of thing makes perfect sense.

Z March 28, 2014 at 7:24 am

Frats seem to be a WASP thing. Catholic colleges don’t have the strong fraternity system and many have banned frats since forever. Jewish frats exist on WASP colleges, but in Jewish colleges have limited Greek life as well. Friends who went to Brandeis say it is a fringe thing for weirdos and the socially inept.

That’s always been my impression. Frats are mostly for guys who can’t stand alone. It’s an enlisted man’s barracks where they all pretend to be officers.

Jewish frat bro March 28, 2014 at 8:21 am

It’s because Jewish guys ages 17-25 (and 45-60 for that matter, which is much the same thing) have institutions that behave basically like fraternities, so they don’t need to go out of their way to be hazed by kids that look like they killed their grandparents. Go spend some time in the dorms at Yeshivah University, at the seminaries go to special “guys only” Shabbat dinners at Penn or Columbia, show yourself at Chabad on Friday night (anywhere in the world), or walk into a synagoge kitchen during Torah reading on a Saturday morning (also, anywhere in the world) and I promise, you’ll feel the frat. Sending the entirety of Modern Orthodox youth to go spend a year or two in single sex seminaries in Israel before college probably helps here.

zbicyclist March 28, 2014 at 9:20 am

Sure, actual “fraternity” and family / friend connections. But not the drinking and date-rape part of it.

Z March 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

I think that’s an excellent point. The Ashkenazim are in a frat by birth. Perhaps that’s why Catholics did not adopt the Greek system either.

Tummler March 28, 2014 at 11:53 am

At my large, public university, most Jews were enthusiastic participants in the Greek system.

rluser March 28, 2014 at 8:21 am

At some schools (e.g. Rensselaer) the greek system has traditionally operated as a housing co-op.

dre March 29, 2014 at 10:59 am

The lack of fraternities at catholic schools is likely driven in part by the same reason fraternities are generally weaker/scarce at all urban schools (as catholic schools are predominately located in cities), by which I mean real estate prices. The classic fraternity system is most prevalent in the large rural schools where it was relatively inexpensive to purchase land adjacent to campus and build an enormous house on top, the type that can serve as a gathering place and living accommodations for 100+ people. Most urban school fraternities that still exist no longer own the houses they occupy, typically they sold them to the college long ago and now lease and are significantly smaller than their State U counterparts. One could also argue that there’s just more to do at an urban campus and thus greek life is less important.

superdestroyer March 29, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Vanderbilt is one of the most highly Greek universities in the U.S. The biggest indicator of being greek is where a school is a commuter school or not. Schools like George Mason, Houston, Georgia State, etc, have small Greek systems because of the number of non-traditional students, part-time students, and students who are rarely on or near campus.

abe March 28, 2014 at 4:15 am

Come on, Tyler. Markets in Everything: Pepper Spray edition.

Please?

dan1111 March 28, 2014 at 7:11 am

-1

CBBB March 28, 2014 at 7:15 am

I just read this story. This is pretty bad and it’s not really a joke.

Steve Sailer March 28, 2014 at 4:32 am

The Crooked Timber folks are true believers in the conventional wisdom of swarms of rich white rapists preying on working class black girls. That’s why, for example, the New York Times went to such lengths to promote the Duke Lacrosse Hoax:

http://www.vdare.com/articles/unequal-justice-duke-lacrosse-team-vs-three-minority-football-heroes

Dan Weber March 28, 2014 at 8:33 am

Why do you say CT believes that?

Harry Brighouse March 31, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Because it is effortless and fits his unreflective priors, presumably

Anonymous Coward March 28, 2014 at 4:40 am

illegal drinking … forcing women to drink
Good heavens. Do these people even read what they are writing? Who’s forcing women to break drinking laws? I totally imagine the scene: screaming coeds dragged by the hair to frat parties and whiskey poured down their throats through funnels. Or maybe they drink the vile stuff at gunpoint, choking and crying. The poor innocent things!

Phooey.

GC March 28, 2014 at 5:53 am

Of course, let’s forget that peer pressure, especially among teenagers, is a somewhat powerful force…

Alexei Sadeski March 28, 2014 at 8:23 am

Innocent lady childs would never dare to touch alcohol without it.

A Definite Beta Guy March 28, 2014 at 9:33 am

Are they adults who are responsible for their own decisions?

GC March 28, 2014 at 9:59 am

Not when it comes to alcohol, if you have a law that says you need ot be 21.. it implicitly says that until 21 you cannot be trusted to make smart judgment calls related to alcohol.

A Definite Beta Guy March 28, 2014 at 10:13 am

Excellent. So you admit they are not rational adults who are capable of making their own decisions. So, what other decisions can we take away from them? I strongly suggest voting rights and the ability to incur $40,000 per annum in student debt.

Steve Sailer March 28, 2014 at 4:57 am

“The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking.”

My impression is that rich sorority girls are actually pretty adept at alerting non-rich non-sorority girls that they are out of their league.

Floccina March 28, 2014 at 1:07 pm

My impression is that rich sorority girls are actually pretty adept at alerting non-rich non-sorority girls that they are out of their league.

Pretty girls, rich or poor are accepted and even recruted everywhere.

8 March 28, 2014 at 5:02 am

This study was paid for by the Society to Stop Womyns’ Suffraging.

prior_approval March 28, 2014 at 5:59 am

‘which I have just ordered’

Because let us be honest, GMU has never had that sort of structure, neither residential nor fraternity – particularly back in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s.

Indulging one’s curiousity is fine – one hopes that ordering is not along the lines of an unhealthy fascination of what could have been if one had chosen to teach at another institution.

S March 28, 2014 at 6:00 am

How would they be at a higher risk or sexual assault? Smells like BS.

andrew' March 28, 2014 at 6:58 am

Government dysregulation. As theory goes the frat house is a place of artificially illegal activity so people breaking the law don’t call the cops for legitimate protection.

But I’m not sure it works that way. It seems the frat wouldn’t want their gravy train to get on the radar screen.

andrew' March 28, 2014 at 7:00 am

But yeah, do you have to rape sloppy drunk chicks? Or do you just define rape that way?

S March 28, 2014 at 7:51 am

I was wondering why non-wealthy sorority girls were at a higher risk than wealthy ones. The claim sounds too much like concatenated left wing talking points to be legit.

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 11:55 am

Because they are trying harder to fit in.

TMC March 28, 2014 at 12:18 pm

But this is about frats. Either you are cute or you are not.

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Who says you have to be cute to be lured to sex by a fraternity guy?

What is mean is, out-of-group girls may be struggling to become in-group and join a sorority, and will therefore take greater risks. They may not have good knowledge of the payoff for the risks, so they may risk extra vulnerability in fraternity settings, thinking that will lead to greater esteem from the girls.

Also, there are plenty of master manipulators in fraternities who can sense the girl’s insecurities and take advantage of them through flattery and other means.

Em March 28, 2014 at 9:43 am

Because you’ve been supplied with free alcohol (women often drink for free while men pay to get in) while surrounded by men you don’t know very well. Compare that to getting drunk with a bunch of friends. The women are wasted in both cases, but in the second they have some previous bond between themselves and men around them which hopefully leads to less assault or a greater likelihood that another friend will watch out for them.

Freshman year I definitely hauled some wasted 17 and 18 old girls out of frat houses at 2am who wanted to stay when the rest of us were leaving. The next day they thanked us profusely. 2am Bud Lite judgement is generally not the best judgement. I mean, you drank Bud Lite.

A March 28, 2014 at 10:56 am

I was in a fraternity. We do have quality controls on who can join, so rapes were not an issue for us.

Fraternities have enormous incentive not to let bad things happen to your guests. First, if you are dicks people stop coming to party with you. Many of the women who come by are regular guests, as they get a feel for what sort of people are in the fraternity. In many cases they become your friends and we want to keep them safe. Second, if something bad happens, whether rape or drinking to the point of medical concern, the organization is likely to get sued and be held liable. So we kept a few sober brothers at every party effectively doing guard duty, keeping out visitors who were already way too hammered, and generally making sure folks behaved and everyone had a good time. You cut off the booze to folks when they’ve had enough, and make sure someone sober enough will walk them home (usually their friends, but we’ve provided folks when needed).

Another notable feature at our school was a self-governance body of the fraternities. They created a bit of policy and actually would inspect parties for compliance from time to time, because they recognized that if one fraternity screwed up, ignorant people in the media would blame us all, the univesity would face a lot of pressure, and we’d all get screwed.

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

My experience as well.

The social protection for women in sororities was also stronger. Most of the time unattached sorority girls would come over in packs, or at least not singly. They would look out for each other and make sure the drunk freshmen ones got escorted out instead of escorted to a guy’s room.

Even singly they are safer. The greek system is “a small world” most places so if a young lady was wearing letters from ABC sorority, the young men are likely to know there would be organized repercussions from abusing her. Also, many of the elder fraternity men are in relationships with elder sorority women, so there is a crossover of social protection.

The girls who are unattached are at the most risk. Some may even be under the impression that impressing the fraternity boys, by drinking a lot and going up to their rooms, is a way to also impress the sorority girls, which it is not.

dre March 29, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Well, yeah, of course it’s safer to drink with friends than to drink with strangers. The argument that fraternities are “dangerous” always seems to lack what exactly they are supposed to be more dangerous than. More dangerous than sitting in your dorm room all night? Yes. More dangerous than drinking with a couple of close friends in your apartment? Probably. More dangerous than just a random college party? There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that. In fact, I’d echo posts by A and Chris S that fraternity parties, at least in current times, are much safer than random house/basement parties.

For one, everyone at a fraternity party knows the organization throwing the party, so there is someone to pursue if something bad happens and the fraternity throwing the party is well aware of the fact they will be responsible. Two, they tend to have risk management policies that involve guest lists, sober guys working the doors and bars, and general organization. Three, the fraternity self selects it’s membership and has academic and behavioral standards that will exclude the true criminals and derelicts. Four, most of the people tend to know each other, or at least know of each other, which lends a degree of community. Guys at the parties are typically members or friends of members as opposed to just whomever heard about the party and decided to show up. None of these things is certain to be true at a random house party.

So yeah, it was good of you to haul those wasted girls home at 2am. But that would be true no matter where they were.

Just Another MR Commentor March 28, 2014 at 6:18 am

If we required people to solve computationally intensive, proof-of-work problems before taking a drink then we could really inhibit people from becoming too intoxicated on college campuses. This is another excellcent appication of the blockchain and Bitcoin colouring.

The Other Jim March 28, 2014 at 9:00 am

I thought you were going to say “before consenting to sex.” Because you know Crooked Timber would be all over that.

I do hand it to those guys. I never thought you posit that party dorms cause income inequality, aside from their obvious problem of releasing the inner rapist inside every male. But I frequently underestimate how many bored lefties there are out there.

And by the way, party girls with useless majors do not become wealthy by “using family connections to get hired.” They get married.

Just Another MR Commentor March 28, 2014 at 9:09 am

I’m not being snarky, there’s serious potential in this idea.

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Look up a drunk-dialing protection app, pretty much the same thing. Do some moderately complex math problem in under x time, or you can’t call your ex-girlfriend.

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm

The famous MRS degree. Don’t tell her I said so, but my wife has an MRS degree, although she had a decent if abbreviated career.

Wasn’t there a big flap a while ago when someone told young ladies that college is the best place to find a mate? So much for speaking truth to power.

quadrupole March 28, 2014 at 10:58 am

LOL… I suspect not… but then my tell as an undergraduate that I was *truly* wasted was that I would begin to insist on demonstrating my sobriety by solving differential equations. I could still do it almost blind drunk… but that fact that I thought it was a reasonable way to demonstrate sobriety was a clear indicator I’d had *way* to much ;)

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:05 pm

We played chess at the bar. Yes, I was at an engineering school, where else would you make chess into a drinking game.

One drink per point, a solo cup has 12 drinks.

andrew' March 28, 2014 at 6:51 am

What can’t people complain about?

Just Another MR Commentor March 28, 2014 at 6:55 am

Bitcoin and the surging stock and real estate markets.

ummm March 28, 2014 at 6:58 am

In recent years, the left has become much more critical of higher education.

andrew' March 28, 2014 at 7:35 am

We can always rely on them to show up late to a party and bring the wrong beer.

Just Another MR Commentor March 28, 2014 at 8:19 am

Good thing Bitcoin will make parties in the future obsolete so no one is ever bringing the wrong beer

Drifting March 28, 2014 at 11:25 am

Bitcoin also raised my dog’s IQ by forty points and cured me of psoriasis.

rocketshipdog March 28, 2014 at 11:34 am

The would be dodgecoin.

msgkings March 28, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Why do we want parties to be obsolete? Another strike against BTC. We simply can’t let the party-squashing power of the blockchain to be, um, let off the chain.

Timothy March 28, 2014 at 9:43 am

I went to undergrad at a small, urban campus that was all barebones academics, no amenities. Most everyone lived in regular apartments with roommates.

When we wanted to drink we got fake IDs and went out to the grown-ass adult bars. (Around here, a fake ID doesn’t have to fool the bouncer, it just has to give them plausible deniability while proving you’re not a cop – had a few bouncers say “nice fake” and let me in back in the day.) For sure we got hammered but drinking in regulated and bounced establishments made us learn proper behavior. Even when we had house (apartment) parties the close quarters with the rest of the city limited the rowdiness.

It went to grad school at big state and by god they had no fuckin’ clue how to drink or hold their liquor. Complete shitshow.

Just Another MR Commodore March 28, 2014 at 9:52 am

It went to grad school at big state and by god they had no fuckin’ clue how to drink or hold their liquor.

I find that dubious, basic motor skills are usually established by the time a child reaches 5 years of age. Unless your State U was populated by people who for some reason lacked hands, I think the students knew very well how to hold a bottle of beer or glass of liquor.

KR March 28, 2014 at 9:43 pm

“That’s when I developed my drinking problem.”

http://imgur.com/gallery/XYr5Z3t

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:10 pm

At my small-town midwest school, there were only so many bars and underage students could not get in, except on a onsie-twosie basis. Also, bar tabs are much bigger than your share of a case of Milwaukee’s Best.

The police were quite frank that they preferred fraternity parties to the alternative, dozens of house or apartment parties. The police even got the university to back off a crackdown on fraternity parties – most houses are off campus, if barely.

It is much easier to monitor a single party of 500 than 20 parties of 25. Plus, we always had a few guys sober, knew how to stop fights, and knew that it was our ass if some girl got raped or someone died of alcohol poisoning. From time to time we would even call the police to our house ourselves, and when they arrived fling some troublemaker out the back door into the waiting police car.

Benjamin Cole March 28, 2014 at 9:50 am

Man, my college days were dull as flat paint. We never got to force women to drink and have sex.

I might read the book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, for prurient interest, but I think not.

Tyler Cowen is really going to read the whole book?

Why?

David March 28, 2014 at 9:56 am

I wonder what percentage of college students — and therefore what percentage of the population — would be considered ‘elites’ by this definition. It seems like it would need to cover a pretty broad swath of the middle and upper-middle class.

DPG March 28, 2014 at 10:11 am

I went to a selective, expensive liberal arts school with a thriving Greek scene. Graduated several years ago and this all rings pretty true, except for the part about rampant date rape. Almost no schools in the country are more than 50% Greek, which means girls still have the majority of men to choose from without going to fraternities. And yet, they still love going to fraternities.

The one thing that the folks at Crooked Timber can’t fathom is that the sexual liberalization of our culture has negative consequences. They had a post a month or two back arguing against the usefulness of marriage for lower class women. As this applies to college behavior, fraternities are not dens of date rape. Women would stop going if that were true. In reality, it’s horny young men trying to get laid and impressionable young girls who want to have some fun and end up getting roped into the hookup culture (not denying that date rape happens, but really, it’s rare; sex comes easily enough in college that most people don’t need to bother). Google Karen Owen and tell me she was worried about date rape.

Constant sex ed that’s mostly about protection, rather than guidance on how to have a relationship. Free condoms (I think my school provided plan B upon request as well). Non-judgment, Women’s studies, “This is what a feminist looks like.”

Grade inflation, lack of academic rigor, and leniency from administration are also problems. Apocryphal, but I knew of a guy who was flunking some courses so he went to a dean and confessed to a drug problem. The dean consoled him, told him that it was courageous to admit this and they would work out a plan with his professors to get him through the semester.

FredR March 28, 2014 at 10:24 am

“Apocryphal, but I knew of a guy who was flunking some courses so he went to a dean and confessed to a drug problem. The dean consoled him, told him that it was courageous to admit this and they would work out a plan with his professors to get him through the semester.”

Yah, if you’re a smart fuckup there are a lot of ways to game the system in college by claiming some disability.

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Women are attracted to high status males. Older fraternity guys have formal high status (within the system) and are therefore more attractive. They are also more likely to be bold and outgoing, which women also stereotypically find attractive.

jseliger March 28, 2014 at 10:31 am

The book is good and Murray Sperber’s Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education makes a good companion to it. Don’t be deceived by the subtitle of Sperber’s book as it’s really about undergrad life more generally.

I find it interesting that relatively few people talk about how both alcohol prohibition and student (especially female) choice drives frats; that in my view was the chief weakness of the Caitlan Flanagan Atlantic article from a few weeks ago.

(I’m writing a dissertation on academic novels and consequently have a greater-than-usual interest in these topics.)

APS March 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a significant relationship between alcohol prohibition and frats, but what sort of relationship would you expect to find between frats and (especially female) choices?

Obviously many women choose to attend frat parties, a fact which both sustains fraternities and enables women to continue getting assaulted in them. A woman’s choice to attend frats is either a rational one (at least with respect to the woman’s goals and the information available to her) or it isn’t. If it isn’t rational–if the women who attend are simply being swept along by their sentiments, or are incapable of reasoning soundly–the only way to respond to the danger of frats is a paternalistic one, by institutionally or socially treating female frat-attendance as a disorder like self-cutting or anorexia and discouraging it. This doesn’t seem a very good explanation, though.

If instead, female students have real incentives to attend frats (and their attendance at them suggests that they probably do), the problem is more difficult. Could it be that the average female college student can expect a better life outcome by going through college in a way that involves a 20% chance of rape instead of a 2% chance? (I’m making these numbers up, and don’t mean to associate them with the decision to attend frat-parties per se; my point is just that some college activities involve more potential sexual predators than others.) It seems quite plausible to me that she can: being perceived as fun, willing to get drunk, and somewhat sexually available is often a prerequisite to on-campus social advantages which in turn serve to socialize students well for their careers. And being perceived as fun, willing to get drunk, and somewhat sexually available probably requires some risks, like getting drunk in places that are not entirely safe.

Douglas Knight March 28, 2014 at 11:22 am

According to this theory, the reason girls go to frat parties is that they can’t drink at home in the dorm. But then this theory predicts that sorority girls don’t go to frat parties, or at least predicts that they attend less than dorm girls. Is this not the opposite of reality?

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:31 pm

No ceteris parabis there.

dearieme March 28, 2014 at 11:38 am

I see that 18 is the age of majority in most of the US. So how do people justify banning booze until age 21?

TMC March 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm

People voted for it. >21 out number >18 and <21.
After you are 21 who cares? and fewer idiots at the bars.

Not saying it's right.

Chris S March 28, 2014 at 12:31 pm

“But think of the childreeennnn!!”

BC March 30, 2014 at 5:55 am

Justify? There are some people that argue quite seriously that the government should have the power to compel broccoli purchases by people of any age. They recognize no limits on, and hence no need to justify, government powers.

Floccina March 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm

More evidence that the children of the affluent are less motivated just as economic theory would suggest. The idea that wealth is demotivating to students is strongly disputed by many democrats who only see academic benefits to being children of affluent parents.

collin March 28, 2014 at 12:36 pm

My question, since when has the college system not been like the description above. It sounds like different than 25 years or even 100 years ago. Many colleges have some sort of Jane Austen action with assortive mating.

Dan March 28, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Prof. Cohen, this post seems to have tapped into quite a bit of angst among your students. Post again about party girls at your own risk.

Dan March 28, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Sorry sorry–Cowen. I had a Prof. Cohen.

Kris March 29, 2014 at 3:57 am

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if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog
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Patrick Macauley March 29, 2014 at 10:37 am

The best way to attack this problem would be to eliminate “easy majors”. It should be just as hard to get a B in Psych as in Chemistry. Most of these partiers shouldn’t be in college anyway, unless they want to start acting like scholars.

The universities are guilty profiteers from these sham educations, which leave “students” deep in debt with very knowledge to show for it.

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