Gender and Ethnic Differences in Undergraduate Binge Drinking
Clark Kopelman, MSW, Washington University in Saint Louis.
National surveys have repeatedly found that approximately 40% of undergraduate students engage in binge drinking, while numerous studies have documented the inter- and intra-personal harms associated with this behavior. Of binge drinkers, a higher proportion of males (49.8%) report binging than females (39.7%). Extant studies have employed different orientations, such as gender role conflict theory and social norms theory, to understand these gender differences, though the use of social learning theory (SLT) is limited in this context. Due to the need to better understand binge drinking, yet a paucity of knowledge into gender differences, the current study utilizes a descriptive approach, applying SLT to binging. The study asks, what components of social learning theory are associated with binge drinking for male and female undergraduate students? Data were taken from the 2001 College Alcohol Survey, a cross-sectional survey used at 140 undergraduate institutions in the U.S. Participants were 10,904 college students, aged 17-25, randomly drawn from participating schools. The College Alcohol Survey includes questions measuring concepts related to social learning theory, including students' alcohol expectations, previous history of drinking, involvement in a sorority/fraternity, and perception of parents' and peers' alcohol use. Two binary logistic regression models – one for each gender – were used to compare the association between SLT factors and binging for each gender. The results indicate that there are both meaningful similarities and differences in factors associated with binging for males and females, though higher odds ratios among similar factors indicate them as areas for further research. For both genders, having binge drank during their senior year in high school (OR = 2.46) and involvement in a fraternity/sorority (OR = 1.6) were associated with an increased odds of current binging. Among the gender differences, negative alcohol expectations (OR = 1.1) were associated with binging for females, though not for males. For males, perceiving their fathers as problematic drinkers was associated with a 37% decrease in binging, an association not found for females. Overall, the study extends previous knowledge by highlighting the need to focus on factors associated with binging for both males and females. Due to the descriptive, rather than causal, nature of the survey, these results provide a need for further research, especially research that sheds light on the nature of the relationship between (1) high school binging and college binging and (2) Greek membership and binging. For example, would reducing binge drinking in high school lower college binging, or are the characteristics of college bingers already in place in high school, reducing the effectiveness of such an intervention? Likewise, how does the interaction between Greek societies and students who enter them promote binging? Since binge drinking behavior will continue to negatively impact young adults and their friends and family, it is imperative to have greater knowledge of how these variables are associated with college binging.