Student Promiscuity at Catholic Colleges

News: US News
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  February 10, 2017   

It takes 8 out of 10 students attending Mass almost daily to keep promiscuity in check

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DETROIT ( - New research is explaining how the Catholic identity of students affects their promiscuity at Catholic colleges.

Extensive research contained in a new book published February 1, Faith with Benefits: Hookup Culture on Catholic Campuses, was compiled and interpreted by Jason King, a professor and chair of the theology department at St. Vincent College.

Summarizing his findings, King noted that when less than 3 out of 4 students are Catholic at a Catholic college and they attend Mass only on weekends, then 55 percent of students are involved in illicit relationships.

According to several studies (see here, here, here, here), roughly 70 percent of all American college students are "hooking up" in any given year. What may shock many Catholic parents is that various studies have shown that Catholic college students were as promiscuous or more so than secular students.

In 2011, the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) reported, "Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus (2008), found 'no differences' between the hooking-up behavior of students at a large state university and the same behavior on a Roman Catholic campus."

CNS goes on to say:

But the study by Burdette, Ellison, Hill and Glenn (2007) points to a more serious problem on Catholic campuses. The survey indicated that 'women attending colleges and universities affiliated with the Catholic Church are almost four times as likely to have participated in hooking up compared with women at secular schools.'

King cites similar findings of researchers from 2009. "In Hooking Up at College: Does Religion Make a Difference? (2009), Amy Burdette and her colleagues found that hooking up was more frequent among students who identified as Catholic." He cites other surveys from that era and affirms, "Early research into hookup culture on Catholic campuses indicated that Catholic campuses were just like secular campuses."

Early research into hookup culture on Catholic campuses indicated that Catholic campuses were just like secular campuses.

With his extensive research, King is able to explain for the first time what's really going on with Catholic students. He identifies three groups on campuses — the very Catholic, the mostly Catholic and the somewhat Catholic. The distinction is most pronounced between the first two groups.

The "very" Catholic campuses have the following characteristics:

  • 80 percent of the students identify as Catholic

  • The college requires three classes in theology

  • Mass is celebrated daily

  • Students attend Mass several times a week

  • Students pray daily

  • Students volunteer for charitable works twice a month

  • The Catholic college has few if any co-ed dorms and enforces strict limits on co-ed visitation

Not surprisingly, King found these "very" Catholic" campuses have the lowest rate of promiscuity among Catholic students — less than 30 percent annually. But when Mass attendance falls off to weekly or the concentration of Catholic students falls a little such as to 75 percent, King found that promiscuous relationships jumped up to include 55 percent of the student body.

This leads to the second group of Catholic campuses. The "mostly" Catholic campuses have a culture fleshed out by King as follows:

  • 75 percent of the students identify as Catholic

  • Two theology classes are required by the college instead of three

  • Mass isn't celebrated daily even though it may be offered most days of the week

  • Students attend Mass at least weekly but not daily

  • Students may not pray daily nor volunteer for charitable works monthly

  • Dorms are mostly co-ed with few limits on co-ed visitation

The rate of illicit relationships for this group was 80 percent higher than the group considered "very Catholic." The biggest factors that kept promiscuity in check on Catholic campuses were not only the number of Catholic students but also their quality of Catholic identity.

King relates, "First and foremost, the number of Catholic students on campus matters. ... A distant second is several institutional factors." He describes "institutional factors" as the number of required classes in theology, how frequent Mass is offered, percentage of co-ed dorms and the co-ed visitation policy of the Catholic college.

But King also points to the quality of Catholic identity held by the students — meaning do they practice what they profess? He determined, "My research indicated that Catholic campuses have lower rates of hooking up, but how much lower depends upon the particular type of Catholic identity."

To get the statistics on Catholic colleges showing such important numbers as the percentage of Catholic students, the percentage of Catholic faculty and the frequency of sacraments offered on campus, see The Newman Guide put out by the Cardinal Newman Society.


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