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

December 2000 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:


Hello again to the Classes of '79, '82, '85, '89 and '93! Your classes are continuing what is now an unprecedented phenomenon among graduates nationally-that being participation in the longest running study of post-college life that includes entire graduating classes and boasts truly remarkable response rates. Indeed, psychologists and sociologists studying adult development who read about this research or hear presentations consistently comment on the unparalleled participation rates of HWS graduates.

The last report I sent a couple years ago described the results of the third round of the post-collegiate survey initiated in the fall of 1996. This current report will update you on findings from the most recent round of surveys. For some of you who sent back a survey more than a year ago now, you may have been wondering what happened to me and the Project. It takes about a year to track everyone down (especially those making multiple moves in one year!) and get responses back. Then there are the eight pages of information each respondent provides that must be translated into the data bank. Those tasks are completed now so I am back with some highlights from the last round of the survey and an update on some new research initiatives associated with the Project.

You and all other members of the Hobart and William Smith graduating classes of '79, '82, '85, '89, and '93 residing in the U.S. were first sent the latest version of my Post-Collegiate Life Survey last year (1999). By September of 2000 a total of 1,282 HWS graduates in these classes (64%) had responded. (Most polls of college graduates usually get response rates of about 15 to 30 percent at best). Graduates from these five classes currently reside in 46 states and the District of Columbia. I received surveys from respondents representing almost all of these states (44 states and DC) with the majority in each state responding in all but 5 states where only a few graduates reside. Respondents are also quite representative of the classes overall in terms of such characteristics as gender, religion, social backgrounds, academic majors, and graduating class years.

This survey which explored post-collegiate experiences and attitudes on a variety of topics was similar in most of its content to the first post-collegiate survey I conducted with the classes of '79, '82, '85 in 1987-88 and the subsequent surveys in 1991 and 1996 when the classes of '89 and '93 were added respectively. This latest 1999-2000 survey, while asking respondents to revisit most of the questions asked in the prior surveys, was expanded by adding a special focus page of questions about forgiveness as a personal experience and practice in post-collegiate life.

Various results of this ongoing project have been and are being prepared for a variety of venues. Summary reports of the first three rounds (1986-87, 1991-92, and 1996-97) were sent to all members of the classes involved after each survey. If you did not receive one initially (probably due to an address change where bulk mailings are usually not forwarded), you can find all of them posted on my Post-Collegiate Life Project web site ( or just drop me a note and I will send a paper version to you. 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 are available on request and are also listed on the web site). 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, religious interests and well-being, and forgiveness and health.


The following overview of data represents just a brief smattering of patterns and "factoids" about post-collegiate life among all of you. Of course the data are aggregate generalizations and can not fully 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. 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.

Relationships, Families, and Friends

Less than 2% of all respondents were married at the time of college graduation. By 1999-2000, however, one-third (34%) of 1993 graduates were married and another 16% were living with a partner. For 1989 graduates the marriage rate jumps dramatically to two-thirds (66%) with 9% living with a partner. Among the three older cohorts ('85, '82, '79) there is very little difference here with three-quarters married and 5% living with a partner. The percentage of respondents who have experienced a divorce rises steadily across cohort years reaching 13% of the class of '79 respondents. About half of them have remarried.

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

Having children in the household follows a predictable pattern. While only 2% of the '93 graduates had children in 1996-97 that rate increased to 8% in 1999-2000. The figure for children jumped from 20% of the class of '89 in 1996-97 to 44% in 1999-2000. Two thirds of the class of '85 and three-quarters of the classes of '82 and '79 reported having children in the most recent survey.

Good friendships are important for most people throughout adulthood although time for friends and the priority it is given decline a bit as family and occupational pursuits typically grow. Alums most typically reported that they currently had about 7 close friendships (similar for men and women), but that figure was 6 for the older classes ('79 through '85) compared to 8 for the younger classes ('89 and '93).

Maintaining close friendships from college years, while important for many graduates, is made difficult by geographic mobility as well as family and career demands as time goes by. The erosion is clear in comparing the different class cohorts and in comparing results of the most recent survey with the survey conducted three years prior for each particular class. Among members of the class of '93, 67% noted at least two of their current close friendships were established in college, but that figure was 77% in the previous survey. For the class of '89, 51% had held on to two close college friends (64% three years prior); for the class of '85, 44% still had two close college friends (down from 49%); for the class of '82, the figure was 39% (down from 44%); and for the class of '79, it was 29% (down from 39% previously). Nevertheless, a large majority of graduates have kept at least one close friendship from college going. Even in the class of '79-with more than 20 years having past since graduation-more than half (55%) still reported maintaining a close friendship with at least one friend from college.

Graduate Studies, Careers, and Incomes

About half (49%) of the respondents had completed an advanced degree program and another 6% were pursing an advanced degree. Among these graduating classes 17% had received an MA, 7% had received an MS, 10% had completed an applied masters program such as an MBA or an MSW, and another 16% had completed a Ph.D. program or professional degree program in medicine, law, or divinity.

The distribution of vocational fields in 1999-2000 was:



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






Full-time student



Family incomes ranged widely with 28% below $60,000 per year, 37% between $60,000 and $120,000, and 35% above $120,000.

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% of graduates were daily smokers in the 1991-92 post-college survey, only 9% in the 1996-97 survey and 7% in 1999-2000 survey were daily smokers. 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.

Alcohol consumption has continued to decline with aging among 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. While such drinking was characteristic of 48% and 33% of the classes of '93 and '89 respectively, it drops below 20% for the classes of '85, '82, and '79. 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 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 one out of five men and one out of ten women in this research could be classified as problem drinkers. Among the men, 15% reported having driven while impaired at least once in the last nine months and 6% of the women reported this behavior. About 12% of men and 7% of women noted that alcohol abuse had negatively affected their job performance during the last nine months. For both men and women, almost one out of ten 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.

Eating problems remain a concern for a significant number of graduates: 18% of the women and 7% of the men indicated that they might possibly have an eating disorder. In addition, 67% of Hobart alumni were dissatisfied with their body weight-61% wanting to weigh less and 6% wanting to weigh more. Seventy-two percent of William Smith alumnae were dissatisfied with their weight, wanting to weigh less in almost every case.

Over two-thirds (71%) of alums believed they did not get enough exercise each week. Men averaged 5 hours and women averaged 4 hours of exercise per week. Approximately, one-quarter of the men and almost one-third of the women were getting less than 20 minutes of exercise per day, a pattern that has not changed since the last survey.

One-third of graduates sometimes have trouble sleeping and an additional 9% report having that problem often. Common sources of current personal stress in one's life: 13% note a family member with an emotional problem, 8% cite a parent's serious illness or death, 7% point to a family member with an alcohol problem, and 4% note serious financial hardship.

Personal Values

Many graduates responding to the survey continue to offer comments about their concern for establishing or reevaluating priorities for their lives. In one section of the survey respondents were asked to rank 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 three 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. This gender difference has not changed over the 13 years of post-college surveys.

Alumni/ae overall continue to report increases in religious interests. While about 26% indicated that their faith commitment in college was relatively strong, 41% reported a relatively strong commitment three years ago and 45% expressed this sentiment most recently. In 1996-97 30% of the class of '93 noted a fairly to very strong faith commitment as opposed to a faith that was not very strong or no faith at all. By 1999-2000 37% of this class were claiming a relatively strong faith. Half of the class of '82 and '79 now reports a strong faith. Monthly attendance at religious services ranges from 30% in the youngest class of graduates ('93) to 52% amongst the oldest group (class of '79). 38% of respondents in this survey said that to a great extent they think of their lives as a part of a larger spiritual force in trying to understand and deal with major problems while 39% put themselves somewhat in this category. In contrast, 23% indicated that they never think this way.


Forgiveness was a new special focus topic in this round of the Post-Collegiate Life Survey. Just a few findings are mentioned here as much more research on this topic is underway. One third of respondents (33%) noted that, when offended, hurt, or wronged by another person, they are usually able to forgive that person and move on with their life fairly quickly, regardless of whether that person has acknowledged the wrongdoing. Half (51%) of the respondents said that though they often hold a grudge initially, they can usually forgive people and move on or reestablish a relationship with time if the offender acknowledges wrongdoing and seeks reconciliation. Finally, 16% described their response to the offenses of others in terms of sustained anger and resentment as well as responding by keeping distant or seeking retribution. Those respondents who were most able to readily forgive the wrongdoings and personal offenses done to them by others were least likely to report symptoms of stress, depression, and other health problems measured in this survey. In contrast, those who had the most difficulty forgiving others characterized by sustained resentment were most likely to report symptoms of poor emotional and physical health. Similarly, there was quite a range of response in graduates' abilities to forgive themselves for hurts they inflicted on family, friends, and coworkers and for moral failings or failing to accomplish major personal goals. The ability to forgive oneself in these areas was an even stronger predictor of personal health and well-being measured elsewhere in the survey.

You may recall that survey respondents were invited to participate in an additional follow-up survey if forgiveness was an important experience, practice or struggle for them in adult life or if the topic was of special interest for them. A total of 528 respondents to the Post-Collegiate Life Survey volunteered to participate in this additional eight page survey that included questions widely exploring how, to what extent, and in what contexts people are able to forgive others and themselves and what effect that has on their lives. By the time of this report at the 2000 year end, 386 of the volunteers had responded (73%). After completing this second survey, 131 graduates additionally volunteered for in depth personal interviews with me about their thoughts and experiences regarding forgiveness in post-collegiate life. To date, I have been able to complete 32 of these case study interviews with graduates as I have traveled to 11 states in every region of the country. Much more about this special topic research will appear later!


This summary has given you only a brief overview. Many more results will emerge in scholarly presentations and publications that will be listed on the website as they appear. 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 to me by mail or email. If you have any questions you would like to see asked of your cohort for the next survey in a few years, 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!