The latest BYU Studies, 46/3 (2007), just hit my mailbox, and features an article by a bunch of folks entitled “A Survey of Dating and Marriage at BYU.” I thought I would take a shot at summarizing it for the benefit of our non-subscribers.
The piece begins by describing a 2001 study of 1,000 college women across the U.S., which found that dating has almost disappeared in favor of Elder Oaks’ favorite bogeyman, “hanging out,” which then leads to the non-LDS variant of “hooking up” (isolated sexual experiences without any expectation of anything more) Only half of the women had been on six or more dates over their entire college career, and 1/3 had two or fewer dates over the entire four years.
These results motivated the authors to do a study at BYU to determine to what extent these trends had penetrated BYU culture. A mail survey was done in 2002, and relied on 784 responses from single students at the Y.
One objective of the survey was to determine attitudes towards marriage in students’ life goals. The importance BYU students placed on marrying (88% women, 87% men) was a little bit more but somewhat comparable to high aspirations towards marriage in the national sample (83% women, 73% men). Interestingly, the non-LDS sample felt a little more confident that at the right time the right person would appear for marriage; nearly the entire national sample was confident in being able to find a suitable mate (99%), but this number was 92% for BYU women and 88% for BYU men, which may suggest higher standards for the BYU group.
About 2/3 of national women and BYU men hoped to find a spouse at college, but the authors were surprised that this figure was only 57% for BYU women, many of whom clearly wanted to graduate before marriage.
BYU students are more likely to see marriage as coming in the next five to ten years than the national poll, and they are also more likely to see marriage as a happier state than being single or cohabiting.
Hanging out is popular in a comparable way at BYU as elsewhere. About a quarter of both BYU men and women hang out six or more times per week. Most commonly this involves just sitting around and talking, although watching TV or going out to eat are popular activities, and going to concerts, sporting events or church activities less so. BYU women report that they like hanging out because it gives them a more active role in initiating interaction with men, and the men like it because it spares them having to risk romantic rejection and it lessens their financial burden since everyone pays his own way. Many students actually lament that they don’t hang out more.
Unlike the situation at many college campuses, dating has not been (almost) completely replaced by hanging out. Roughly 20% of both men and women claimed five or more dates per month. Only 7% of the men and 16% of the women reported not having been on a date during the previous month. Many BYU students averaged as many dates in a single month as women at other schools had over their entire four years of college.
Dating practices haven’t changed much. Men still do most of the inviting, and dinner and a movie, play, concert or similar event is the typical date, although less expensive activities like hiking are also common. Typically the man pays. It has become more common in recent years for women to issue date invitations. Just over half of the men and well over half of the women feel that they do not date as much as they would like to.
As for physical intimacy, around 30% think holding hands, hugging and kissing is appropriate in a hanging out relationship, while the percentage is just short of 100 for a dating relationship. A small number, from 1 to 3%, feels making out and intense kissing is appropriate for hanging out, which appears to be the NCMO phenomenon and the BYU equivalent of “hooking up.” Naturally, BYU students are very conservative as regards actual premarital sex. Only 3 to 4% of BYU students have had sex (a figure possibly somewhat underreported due to fear of honor code violations), as compared with 60 to 70% at other universities.
Many students found it challenging to transition from hanging out to dating relationships. The most common strategy for doing so was to spend more one on one time together outside of the group. One young woman said in effect that someone has to actually say the word “date.” For some students, an increase in physical intimacy, such as holding hands, cuddling or kissing defines the switch. Only about 20% defined actual discussion as the demarcation point, which surprised the researchers. Students generally dreaded DTRs–talks defining the relationship.
So while the hanging out culture at BYU is comparable to trends at other universities, there is much more dating and much less hooking up at the Y than elsewhere.
The most important trait Y students look for in a future spouse is spirituality. The table of desired qualities was mostly similar between men and women, but there were some interesting variances: 40% of men and 68% of women wanted someone who was ambitious, a hard worker. 32% of men and 59% of women wanted someone who is educated. 37% of men but only 9% of women admitted to physical attraction as a desired characteristic. 1% of men cared about earning capacity, compared to 12% of women.
There was also a section on “false starts,” meaning unrequited love and breakups. Many cited loss of feelings or not having enough in common in these situations. Some found serious conflicts as they got to know each other better; jealousy, possessiveness, lack of balance, cheating, different values [although this wasn't quite the issue at the Y as elsewhere] were among the issues cited.
The largest factor in deciding to marry was spiritual confirmation (22% men, 29% women). Just “feeling it’s the right thing to do” was next.
A significant amount of students were delaying marriage for a variety of reasons: fear of making a mistake, needing more emotional maturity, lack of opportunity, a desire to finish school, etc. About 10% reported family pressures not to marry while in school. The authors thought this unfortunate, because opportunities to marry sharply decline once you leave school.