An Overview Report for Alumni and Alumnae Respondents

September, 1992 Report

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Debra K. DeMeis, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456

The project has been a great success in collecting information on the experiences and attitudes of our students in the post-collegiate years thanks to all of you who responded. Our delay in reporting to you (especially for those among you who responded as early as the summer of 1991) simply reflects the length of time it took to track many of you down and the overwhelming response which translated into many weeks of codifying survey returns.

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, and '89. This survey which explored post-collegiate experiences and attitudes on a variety of topics was similar to one designed and conducted by Prof. Perkins in 1987-88 for the classes of '79, '82, '85. The recent version was expanded with a series of questions on parenting and other household activities with the participation of Prof. DeMeis. We sent out the survey and follow-up mailings over a ten month period from June of 1991 to April of 1992. Responses were returned anonymously between July of 1991 and June of 1992. The final result was a total of 1,151 responses or 70% of the graduates in these classes. This is an exceptionally high response rate that nearly equalled the return rate of the earlier survey! (Polls of college graduates usually get response rates of about 15 to 30 percent at best). We were counting on the majority of graduates to take part, but to hear from almost three-quarters of the members of your classes (with many of you writing extra comments about post-college life transitions) was, indeed, an exciting research experience.

The group responding was quite representative of each class and overall in terms of such characteristics as gender, religion, social backgrounds and academic majors. 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 William Smith and Hobart graduates. Given that several months have 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 '89 might wish to "look ahead" at the Class of '85 which in turn may look to the Class of '82, etc. in order to "see itself" a couple years in the future by seeing what the class ahead has reported.


Establishing and maintaining friendships is important for most people throughout adulthood. The peer oriented cultures of college life tend to erode, however, as the maintenance of good friendships--many established in college--becomes increasingly difficult with geographic mobility, growing time demands of careers, and expanding families. As one graduate commented in the previous survey, "College is fun--nonstop partying, hanging out with friends, going to sporting events, social affairs, fraternity parties, and yes, studying. But the real world is work, work, work, responsibilities, apartment rent, car payments, phone bills etc.....In college you usually have more close friends because you live, study, go to class, eat and party with the same people constantly. Once out of college, you spend 8-10 hrs./day with co-workers, then a few hours with roommates or family, then a few, maybe, with social friends." Indeed, while members of the recent class of 1989 averaged spending 8 nights per month socializing with friends, that figure shrunk steadily with each class down to 4 nights per month for the oldest graduates of 1979. Alumni/ae most typically reported that they currently had about 6 close friendships (the same average number for men and women and the same for each graduating class). But the difference between class cohorts in their remaining college friendships reveals the difficulty that some graduates experience in retaining old friends. While 75% of the class of '89 still maintained at least two close friendships from college, only 66% of the class of '85, 51% of the class of '82, and 40% of the class of '79 could say the same. With less than three years since graduation only 7% of the 1989 graduates retained no close college friends, but the percentage more than doubled (18%) for the 1985 graduates at over six years since graduation, was 23% for the 1982 cohort, and reached one-third (33%) for the 1979 graduates. Many of the recent 1989 graduates (38%) 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 twelve years since graduation, however, it might be described as remarkable that so many 1979 graduates still have multiple close friends from college (40%) and that an appreciable number (13%) still have close ties with faculty or administrators here.


Of course the growth of families among alumni/ae has occurred simultaneously with much of the social friendship loss. Less than 2% of all respondents were married at the time of graduation. In post-collegiate life 11% of 1989 graduates were married and 19% were living with a partner, among 1985 alumni/ae 46% were married and 16% were living with a partner, 66% were married and 12% living with a partner in the 1982 cohort, and the figures for 1979 graduates were 76% married and 4% living with a partner. Thus while singlehood with no partner is the norm (69%) for the most recent class (1989), living alone without a partner declines to 17% for the 1979 alumni/ae. Furthermore, while only 3% of the '89 graduates had children at the time of the survey, 13% of the '85 class, 34% of the 1982 cohort and 57% of the 1979 cohort had become parents. Most parents (82%) have one or two children who are two or younger.

We expected that many of you would have entered the stage of parenting so we included a separate section on parenting expectations and experiences for alumni/ae who had become parents. Your beliefs about the parental roles of mother and father followed a fairly traditional gendered breakdown. Mothers were perceived to perform all of the parental duties more often than fathers, except for playing physical games like tag. When compared to fathers, mothers were viewed as more likely than fathers to read to children, watch educational TV with children, monitor children's diet and praise children for taking care of themselves. Thus it appears that caring for children is still considered as a role that is associated with women more than men. An interesting difference in your responses, however, was that fathers' responses were somewhat less gender stereotyped than those of mothers. Men were more likely to view fathers as performing child care activities (for ten of the twelve activities), and consequently reported less disparity between how typical a behavior was of mothers vs. fathers.

Another interesting pattern was that your expectations of who performs parenting behaviors was more gender stereotyped than your answers concerning who actually does child care. Consider the parental behavior of monitoring your child's diet. Approximately 90% of both women and men thought that mothers watched their child's diet, which was fairly consistent with the 84% of mothers who checked that they had performed the behavior in the last 48 hours. In comparison, although only 30% of the men and 13% of the women thought that fathers routinely watched what their children ate, 49% of the fathers reported that they had recently monitored their children's diet. A similar pattern of results appeared for nine of the twelve behaviors; women's expectations underestimated fathers' involvement while both men's and women's expectations overestimated what mothers did. The results raise the possibility that men are becoming more involved in family life than the stereotype predicts. Consequently, men and women appear to be sharing the care of their children more often, despite traditional role expectations which place men outside of the role of caregiver.

Health-Related Behavior Patterns

Smoking has declined somewhat since graduation among respondents. While 39% of the alumni/ae in these classes smoked during their senior year (with 26% smoking daily), only 21% do so today (with 17% smoking daily). The change since college in smoking was greater among women; they smoked more heavily than men in college but smoke at about the same rate as the men now. The reduction in smoking that has occurred 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. For example, the average number of drinks over two weeks dropped from 16 in the class of '89 to 10 in the class of '79. Binge drinking at a party (five or more drinks) was characteristic of 47%, 25%, 20%, and 13% of the classes of '89, '85, '82, '79, respectively. Binge drinking is quite risky for anyone, of course, and alcohol abuse remains as a significant problem among graduates. 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 from survey responses, about 20-25% of the men and 10% of the women could be classified as problem drinkers. Indeed, several alumni/ae included lengthy comments about their college and post-college struggles with alcoholism. Combining the four classes about 10% say alcohol abuse has negatively affected their work during the last nine months. Among male respondents 22% have driven while intoxicated during these nine months (9% on more than one occasion); 9% of women report having driven while intoxicated during this same period (5% more than once). The extent of alcohol problems varies according to age groups, however--while 15% of the Class of '89 reported that alcohol had affected their work performance, the figure reduced to 10% for the Class of '85, 9% for the Class of '82 and 5% for the Class of '79. For impaired driving the overall pattern ranged from 22% for the Class of '89 down to 7% for the Class of '79.

Eating problems are a concern for a significant number of graduates: 19% of the women and 10% of the men indicated that they might possibly have an eating disorder. In addition, 61 percent of Hobart alumni were dissatisfied with their body weight--11% wanting to weigh more and 50% wanting to weigh less. Seventy-two percent of William Smith alumnae were dissatisfied with their weight--with only 1% wanting to weigh more and 71% wanting to weigh less.

Almost three-quarters of alumni/ae respondents believed they did not get enough exercise each week. While the men averaged about six hours of exercise per week about one-third of them got less than one-half hour per day. Women averaged between 4 and 5 hours per week, but about half of the women got less than one-half hour per day.

Pursuing Graduate Studies and Careers

At about two and one-half years since graduation 35% of the respondents from the class of 1989 had continued their formal education with 10% having completed at least a masters degree. Among those respondents with six or more years beyond the B.A. or B.S. ('85, '82, or '79 alumni/ae), 47% had gone on to graduate studies with 24% having completed at least one masters degree and another 15% having received a doctorate or other advanced professional degree. The distribution of vocational fields was as follows:



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% 13%
Full-time student 11%11%  

Daily Activities

We were interested in how you spend your day and asked you to check which of seventeen common activities you had performed in the last two days and the amount of choice you felt you had in performing each activity. Not surprisingly, most of you spent at least part of your day doing household chores (e.g., paying bills, laundry, making dinner, taking our the garbage and running errands). Another common activity was connecting with your family or friends, by either spending leisure time with a partner or spouse (70%) or telephoning, writing or visiting people in your family (70%). Less frequent activities included volunteer work (18%), religious activities (20%), and class or lecture attendance (20%). Most differences between men and women, which appeared in household tasks, were consistent with gender stereotypes. A higher percentage of women planned and prepared meals and did laundry while more men worked on the car. Of employed men and women, more men brought work home with them. In leisure activities, reading a book was more common for women than men.

You reported at least some degree of choice over every aspect of your daily lives (except paying bills/planning a budget). You felt the least amount of choice in performing household tasks, saying that you experienced some choice and some pressure. Not surprisingly, you reported that social and leisure oriented activities, including volunteer work, reading, and family time, were mostly or entirely voluntary. Women and men felt the same amount of choice for each of the seventeen listed activities, even for those in which men's and women's participation varied.

Personal Values

Although this limited survey could only touch upon common values, many of you commented about your concern for establishing a set of 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 four years ago in the first post-collegiate survey. Marriage, friends, and children 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 24% indicated that their faith commitment in college was relatively strong, 39% are now reporting a relatively strong interest. Relatively strong religiosity ranges from 32% in the class of '89 to 44% in the class of '79.

Concluding Note

This summary has given you a only brief overview. Much of the research findings are yet to come in more detailed analyses of job experiences, family transitions, and personal stresses that may be related to friendships, health concerns, personal values, and one's own sense of well-being. If you are interested in any more information from this study, simply send us a note and we 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. Finally, we hope to continue this study with another follow-up on all of you in another two or three years. If you have any questions you would like to see asked of your cohort, do not hesitate to send us your suggestions. Whatever is your interest or concern for next time around, let us know (along with any change of address!)

Thanks once again to all of you who participated!

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