Co-ed Dorms Increase Risk Behaviors
Special Report - November 25, 2009
A new study has found that students living in co-ed college housing are more likely to consume alcohol, engage in binge drinking, hold permissive attitudes toward sexual activity, and have more recent sexual partners. The Journal of American College Health published “The Impact of Living in Co-ed Resident Halls on Risk-taking Among College Students” by Drs. Brian Willoughby and Jason Carroll in its November/December issue.
The study found that “students significantly differed on risk-taking behaviors and attitudes based on housing type.” Students living in all-male or all-female residence halls drink less, have fewer sexual partners, consume pornography less frequently, and have less permissive attitudes toward sexual activity.
Among students living in gender-specific housing:
- 63.2 percent had no sexual partners in the last year.
- 4.9 percent had three or more sexual partners in the last year.
- 26.5 percent agreed that “it is all right for two people to get together for sex and not necessarily expect anything further.”
- 26.5 percent consumed alcohol weekly.
- 17.6 percent engage in binge drinking weekly.
Among students living in co-ed housing:
- 44.3 percent had no sexual partners in the last year.
- 12.6 percent had three of more sexual partners in the last year.
- 44.1 percent agreed that “it is all right for two people to get together for sex and not necessarily expect anything further.”
- 56.4 percent consumed alcohol weekly.
- 41.5 percent engage in binge drinking weekly.
The study’s authors posit that differences in environment and social norms in housing arrangements are heavily responsible for the discrepancies in behavior. “The central premise of the study presented here is that the inclusion of both males and females in the same living environment produces a different social context, with different perceived norms, social expectations, and behavior patterns than gender-specific housing arrangements,” according to the authors. They argue that “the findings of this study suggest that co-ed residence halls may create a social environment that contributes to students being more prone to endorse and engage in risk-taking behaviors” demonstrated by other recent research documenting “that the social environment at American colleges and universities is frequently characterized by informal hanging out rather than planned dating, sexual hook-ups with non-committed partners, and frequent experimentation with alcohol and other drugs.” They go on to warn that “research has shown that heavy drinking among college students is associated with numerous negative outcomes such as missing classes, poor relationships with romantic partners, and more susceptibility to illness.”
The study surveyed 510 students in on-campus housing at five colleges during the 2004-2005 academic year. Eighty-seven percent of the students surveyed lived in co-ed residence halls. Nearly 13 percent of the students surveyed lived in gender-specific housing. Researchers controlled for age, gender, religiosity, impulsivity, extroversion, and depression.
"This is the kind of study that should result in action by college administrators across North Carolina," said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. "Parents now spend enormous sums of money to send their teenagers off to college for the purpose of furthering their academic education so they are well prepared for the workplace. Instead, they find their students seem to become part of a large social experiment that is designed to tear down moral values and provide opportunities for experimentation with alcohol and sex that, at a minimum, allow students to violate state laws under the protection of the university. Administrators should rethink the 'wisdom' of co-ed dorms and return to gender-specific housing."
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.