Research Update for the Classes of '79, '82, '85,
Fall 1998 Report
H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Anthropology and Sociology
Hobart and William Smith
Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456
Phone: (315) 781-3437 Fax: (315) 781-3718 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
OVERVIEW OF LATEST SURVEY FINDINGS
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.)
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.
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
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
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!