College binge drinkers happier than non-bingers, the headlines today read. Or Drink up — Binge drinking college students are happier than their sober peers. Wow!, what a scandalous and contrarian finding. To what can we attribute this conclusion? Uh, that would be an unpublished study based on a 2009 survey of students at a single private, liberal arts college. And, of course, to #badsciencereporting (a problem rampant enough to deserve a hashtag, clearly).
Here’s what the study – conducted by Colgate University sociology professor Carolyn Hsu and presented at a meeting of the American Sociological Association–actually found:
- On average, “high status,” wealthy, socially connected college students at Colgate felt better about their college social lives than “low-status,” less-connected or less-wealthy peers.
- These high status college students were also more likely to binge drink.
- Low-status college students who did binge drink were more “socially satisfied” than similar students who did not.
I must be missing the part where binge drinking per se is linked to “happiness.”
What this study actually presents is both sadder and more obvious than the sensationalist version. Is anyone shocked that popular, socially-connected students are more “socially satisfied” than students who are less popular and less connected? Or that students with lots of friends and money are more likely to frequently get wasted than those with neither? I don’t know anything Colgate in particular, but it seems from this study like a place where drinking is pretty significantly tied to campus social life. Is it any wonder that students who don’t want to drink, don’t have money to drink, or don’t have friends to drink with would feel a little left out?
“The study reveals that if you want to understand college binge drinking, you need to understand that college students are reacting to the local campus social situation,” said lead author Carolyn Hsu, in a statement that surprises absolutely no one whose ever been to, read about or heard of a college campus.
“[But] we really don’t want the take-home message of this research to be, ‘Students, it’s a reasonable choice to drink — it makes you happier,” Hsu emphasized. Um, yeah. Good luck with that …