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Research Update for the Classes of '79, '82, '85, '89, '93

Fall 1998 Report

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456

Phone: (315) 781-3437 Fax: (315) 781-3718 E-mail:


Greetings once again to the Classes of '79, '82, '85, '89 and '93! Having spent so much time studying you as undergraduates and in multiple post-collegiate life surveys, I am sure that almost all of you know by now that you are very special classes to me. Indeed, you are also a very special group among graduates nationally as participants in one of the longest running studies of post-college life that includes entire graduating classes and boasts truly remarkable response rates. Psychologists and sociologists studying adult development who read about this research or hear presentations consistently comment on the unparalleled participation rates of this study of HWS graduates (more on all this below).

Yet it has been quite some time since I last wrote to all of you requesting that you participate in the third round of the post-collegiate survey in the fall of 1996 with returns completed in 1997. It takes about one-year to track everyone down (especially those making multiple moves in one year!) and get responses back. Then there are the months of time devoted to coding all the data from the eight pages of questions each respondent provided. Add to that my full-time teaching duties and other research projects and I hope you can understand why it takes me awhile to fulfill my promise of sending you some highlights and updates about results of the surveys. Nevertheless, I am happy to provide you with this latest report and to say that the project will be continuing with the traditional survey and some new initiatives next year (more on that below too).

As you probably recall, you were sent a survey along with all other members of the Hobart and William Smith graduating classes of '79, '82, '85, '89, and '93. This survey which explored post-collegiate experiences and attitudes on a variety of topics was similar to the first post-collegiate survey I conducted with the classes of '79, '82, '85 in 1987-88. At that time 860 graduates from the three classes responded providing an unprecedented 76% overall response. (Polls of college graduates usually get response rates of about 15 to 30 percent at best). In 1991-92 the class of '89 was added to the study and the survey we sent out was expanded to include a series of questions on parenting and other household activities with the participation of Debra DeMeis, professor of psychology and now Dean of William Smith. The final result was a total of 1,151 responses or 70% of the graduates in these four classes, again an exceptionally high response rate that nearly equaled the return rate of the earlier survey. Many of you wrote extra comments about post-college life transitions.

This latest 1996-97 study, while asking respondents to revisit most of the questions asked in the prior surveys, was expanded again by adding the class of '93. A total of 1,394 graduates of the five classes returned their surveys by mid-1997, providing another round of 70% responding! In each instance respondents have been quite representative overall in terms of such characteristics as gender, religion, social backgrounds, academic majors, and graduating class years. Thus, for a variety of topics covered in the survey, we have a good picture of trends, diversity, and general patterns of post-collegiate adult life among Hobart and William Smith graduates. Given the length of time that has gone by since this "snapshot" of your lives was taken, some of you will have moved into different family, work, and emotional stages as well as into new addresses, but this report will give you a good picture of some basic characteristics of your class. The Class of '93 might wish to "look ahead" at the Class of '89 which in turn may look to the Class of '85, etc. in order to "see itself" a couple years in the future by seeing what the class ahead has reported. (My apologies to the class of '79 who will always be stuck "looking back" to where they were a year or two ago as they "lead the way" among cohorts in the study!)

Various results of this ongoing project have been and are being prepared for a variety of venues. Two previous summary reports of the first two rounds (1986-87 and 1991-92) were sent to all members of the classes involved about 6 to 12 months after each survey. If you did not receive one initially (probably due to an address change where bulk mailings are usually not forwarded), or if you would simply like another copy, just drop me a note and I will send one to you. I also plan to put all of these reports up on a new web site I am planning for this project in 1999. In addition, several studies based on these data have been presented as research papers in academic journals and in professional conference presentations. (Papers and articles from an appended reference list are available on request). To date, the studies have spanned such topics as life goals and health, post-college stress and alcohol abuse, gender and household activities, resilience in adult children of alcoholics, motherhood roles and employment, and religious interests and well-being. Several more studies are in progress examining perceptions of fatherhood roles and family and career transitions.

Finally, I am pleased to announce that I was recently awarded a large grant from the Campaign for Forgiveness Research, an international research program initiated with support from the John Templeton Foundation, that will support a new phase of studies over the next two years for this Post-Collegiate Life Project. Several universities just received grants to conduct research on the topic of forgiveness ranging from studies of ethnic and political conflict resolution in countries and communities to studies of forgiveness and reconciliation in companies, worker relationships, families and friendships. Questions about what forgiveness means, how forgiveness and reconciliation occur and are facilitated, and what benefits they may provide, have long been discussed by philosophers and theologians, but there has been very little research on the topic conducted in sociology, psychology, and other social sciences. I am proud to say we are one of the few small colleges that are included in this international research program, and this was largely based on the strength of the research and the extensive participation of graduates that has already taken place in this project. My research plan is to include a look at this dimension of human experience in post-collegiate work, families and close relationships that expands the ongoing focus on values, health and well-being in the lives of HWS graduates. So look for the next round of the survey (which should arrive next spring!) to include this new dimension.


The following data represent just a smattering of patterns and "factoids" about post-collegiate life among all of you. Of course the data are aggregate generalizations. By no means can they accurately reflect the entire spectrum of diverse life course experiences in your class cohorts. Moreover, there is not enough space here or time available yet to report on all the topics included in the most recent study. Debra DeMeis and I are still analyzing data from the section on parent roles in the latest survey, for example, and we will report on much of that in the future. Nevertheless, I imagine that many of these findings will confirm your impressions of trends, while some findings might surprise you and others may simply provide some food for thought or conversation.


Establishing and maintaining friendships is important for most people throughout adulthood. Alumni/ae most typically reported that they currently had about 7 or 8 close friendships (7 for women and 8 for men). This average number did not vary among the different graduating classes. But the difference between class cohorts in their remaining college friendships reveals the difficulty that some graduates experience in retaining old friends as the maintenance of good friendships established in college becomes increasingly difficult with geographic mobility, growing time demands of careers, and expanding families. While 77% of the class of '93 still maintained at least two close friendships from college and 64% of the class of '89 did so, only 49% of the class of '85, 44% of the class of '82, and 39% of the class of '79 could say the same. With only three to four years since graduation few (8%) of the 1993 graduates retained no close college friends, but the percentage doubled (17%) for the 1989 graduates at over seven years since graduation. This figure climbed to 29% and 31% for the 1985 and 1982 cohorts, respectively, and reached 43% for the 1979 graduates. Many of the recent 1993 graduates (37%) had maintained a close relationship with a faculty member or administrator at the Colleges, but the percentage again declines significantly for older classes. From the viewpoint of more than 17 years since graduation, however, it might be described as remarkable that still an appreciable number (13%) have close ties with faculty or administrators here. It is also interesting to note that the percentage of 1979 graduates with close ties to HWS faculty and staff had not declined since the 1991-92 survey.

How Time is Spent

Even though friends may be maintained or new ones made over the years, the time available to socialize with them shrinks considerably. Indeed, while members of the recent class of '93 spent 7 nights per month socializing with friends, that figure shrunk steadily with each class down to 3 nights per month for the oldest graduates of '79 (and the graduates of '79 had said 4 nights per month on average last time in the 1991-92 survey). Among those employed at the time of the survey, men spent an average of 50 hours per week at their work while women devoted 40 hours to employment on average. In contrast, women spent 18 hours per week on average in household/homemaking activities while men contributed 11 hours to the homes. Almost three-quarters of alumni/ae respondents believed they did not get enough exercise each week. While the men averaged between 5 and 6 hours and women averaged between 4 and 5 hours of exercise per week, one-quarter of the men and almost one-third of the women were getting less than 20 minutes of exercise per day.


The growth of families among alumni/ae is very much what one might expect among these classes. Less than 2% of all respondents were married at the time of graduation. In 1996-97 post-collegiate life 11% of 1993 graduates were married and another 21% were living with a partner, among 1989 graduates the marriage rate jumps dramatically to 52% with 10% living with a partner, among 1985 alumni/ae 69% were married and 6% were living with a partner, 78% were married and 4% living with a partner in the 1982 cohort, and the figures for 1979 graduates were 83% married and 3% living with a partner. Thus, while singlehood with no partner was the norm (67%) for the most recent class ('93), living alone without a partner declines to 10% for the 1979 alumni/ae.

Less than 1% of the classes of '93 and '89 had experienced divorce. That figure rose to 4% for the class of '85 and 7% for the class of '82 (with about half already remarried). For the oldest cohort (class of '79), 11% had experienced divorce (with almost two-thirds of them having remarried).

While only 2% of the '93 graduates had children at the time of the survey, 20% of the class of '89, 57% of the '85 class, 68% of the '82 cohort and 74% of the '79 cohort had become parents. Over two-thirds of the parents in the oldest classes ('82 and '79) had two or more children. (Research by Prof. DeMeis and myself on the section of questions for parents, specifically about parenting behaviors and perceived roles in this latest survey, is still in progress and will be reported later in other venues.)

Sexual Orientations

Four percent of graduates report that their current sexual preference or orientation is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This percentage is essentially the same for each of the five graduating classes in the survey and does not differ by gender.

Health-Related Concerns

Smoking has declined substantially in recent years among respondents. While 26% of the alumni/ae in these classes smoked daily during their senior year and while 17% were daily smokers in the 1991-92 post-college survey, only 9% were daily smokers in 1996-97. The change since college in smoking was greater among women; they smoked more heavily than men in college but smoke at a slightly lower rate than men now in post-collegiate life. The reduction in smoking overall among both men and women graduates primarily reflects a cultural trend of less smoking in recent years and not developmental changes that occur simply with aging.

It is probably no surprise to most of you that average alcohol consumption declines substantially during the post-college years for most graduates as social events and peer pressure emphasizing alcohol consumption wane. For example, heavy drinking at parties that would lead to risky intoxication levels is often defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women which takes into consideration the typical time spent drinking at a party and the average body weight and metabolism differences of men and women. Such drinking was characteristic of 50%, 35%, 24%, 19%, and 11% of the classes of '93, '89, '85, '82, '79, respectively. Likewise, the average number of drinks consumed in a two week period declines steadily for men from 17 drinks on average for men in the class of '93 to 10 drinks for men in the class of '79. Among women, however, the average number of drinks over two weeks remained about the same across class years averaging between 6 and 7 drinks.

While social occasions where alcohol is prominent and personal motivations to use alcohol as a "social lubricant" decline with age among graduates, drinking to cope with stress becomes more prominent among motivations for drinking, and stress-related drinking is more highly correlated with drinking problems (especially for females) in the older cohorts. Taking into account the amounts consumed in various contexts, intoxication rates, the frequency of negative consequences of consumption, and self-concern about one's drinking noted by survey respondents, about 20-25% of the men and 10% of the women could be classified as problem drinkers. Indeed, as in the previous surveys, several alumni/ae included lengthy comments about their college and post-college struggles with alcohol problems. About one out of eight graduates said they had experienced at least one occurrence of short term memory loss from drinking during the last nine months where after drinking they could not remember events or actions that had taken place during that drinking episode. Also, 12% noted that alcohol abuse had negatively affected their work during the last nine months. Among male respondents 19% had driven while intoxicated during the prior nine months (8% on more than one occasion); 8% of women reported having driven while intoxicated during this same period (2% more than once).

Eating problems remain a concern for a significant number of graduates: 19% of the women and 7% of the men indicated that they might possibly have an eating disorder. In addition, 66% of Hobart alumni were dissatisfied with their body weight--10% wanting to weigh more and 56% wanting to weigh less. Seventy-four percent of William Smith alumnae were dissatisfied with their weight--with only 2% wanting to weigh more and 72% wanting to weigh less.

Graduate Studies and Careers

In all of the graduating classes about half of the respondents were currently pursuing or had completed post-graduate education. For graduates who were somewhere between three and eight years after graduation (classes of '93 and '89 in 1996-97 survey) 18% of the respondents were working toward an advanced degree, 22% had completed masters level degree work, and another 8% had completed a Ph.D. program or professional degree program in medicine, law, or divinity. For graduates with eleven or more post-collegiate years (classes of ''85, '82' and '79) 6% of the respondents were working toward an advanced degree, 26% had completed masters level degree work, and another 17% had completed a Ph.D. program or professional degree program in medicine, law, or divinity.

The distribution of vocational fields was as follows: Hobart William Smih



William Smith




Health care related professions



Legal and paralegal professions



Human relations work






Nonprofit administration and government






Science and engineering related fields



Mass media, communications, and entertainment






Skilled labor



Unskilled labor



Homemaker <1% 16%
Full-time student 7% 8%

Personal Values

Although this limited survey could only touch upon common values, many of you commented about your concern for establishing or reevaluating priorities for your lives. In one section of the survey respondents were asked to prioritize six commonly held personal goals or pursuits: 1) having close friends, 2) being respected in one's community, 3) raising children, 4) earning a high income, 5) achieving occupational prestige or success, and 6) having a close marital relationship. The value priorities of graduates were diverse in the variety of patterns reported, but the overall pattern was very similar to that found in the previous two post-collegiate surveys. Marriage, children, and friends were most consistently rated as the three relatively high priorities in that order. In comparing the interests of men and women, there were no appreciable gender differences in the relative importance placed on marriage, children, occupational prestige or community respect. Women clearly tended to value friendships more highly than men, however, while men gave more relative importance to earning a high income. When asked about religious interests in another set of questions, alumni/ae overall reported increases in commitment to their faiths. While about 23% indicated that their faith commitment in college was relatively strong, 41% are now reporting a relatively strong interest. Relatively strong religiosity at the current time increases across class cohorts from 30% in the class of '93 to 48% in the class of '79.


This summary has given you only a brief overview. If you are interested in any more information from this study, simply send me a note and I will be happy to send further results. If you have any additional thoughts or comments about post-collegiate life experiences that you would not mind sharing (anonymously if you wish, but include your class year), jot them down and send them too. And stay tuned for the next survey to arrive in 1999 with new topics. If you have any questions you would like to see asked of your cohort, do not hesitate to send suggestions. Whatever is your interest or concern for next time around, let me know (along with any change of address!).

Thanks once again to all of you who participated!

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