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Sex in College: It’s a Buyer’s Market

Parents should be telling their sons: “Work hard so you can go to college. Not only will you make more money, but it’s your best chance to get laid.”

For every 100 men on university campuses in Canada there are 136 women, and across North America women are heading off to college at much higher rates than men. From an economic (and perhaps evolutionary biology) perspective, that makes it a buyer’s market.  According to new research recently published in Sociological Quarterly, giving market power to men is leading to an increase in promiscuity on campuses and creating negative attitudes among women toward dating and relationships.*

Using a nationally representative sample of US college students, the paper finds that on college campuses with fewer women relative to men, women are more likely to be virgins. Decrease the relative number of men though, and women both become more sexually active and less likely to be in a relationship. 

For example, women on college campuses who have never had a college boyfriend have a 69% chance of being a virgin when 47% of all students are female compared to only a 54% chance when 60% of all students are female. For women who have had at least one college boyfriend the gap is no smaller: they have a 45% chance being a virgin on the low sex ratio campus and 30% on the high sex ratio campus. Women with a current boyfriend have a 17% chance of being a virgin when there are more women than men on campus, and a 30% chance when there are more men than women.

This evidence at least suggests that when women outnumber men, men have greater influence on when a couple has their first sexual experience together.

In terms of promiscuity, women who do not have a current boyfriend, but have had one in the past, have a 27% chance of having had sex in the last month on a high sex ratio campus but only a 20% chance on a low sex ratio campus; single women are more sexually active when men are relatively scarce than when men are relatively abundant.

It isn’t that the women on the low ratio campuses don’t date, either. In fact, a one percent decrease in the percentage of women on a university campus increases the probability that a woman will have gone on six or more traditional dates by an incredible 3.3%. 

In an environment in which women out-number men there appears to be less traditional dating but more hooking-up. The same authors, in their recently published book, report that a number of the women interviewed were participating in sexual acts they disliked or were having sex more often than would have been their choice.

I have a question about this though, if this is the case why are more men not going to college? Given that university educated men also do better on the marriage market, I am mystified as to why this disequilibrium exists.

Parents should be sitting their sons down in the tenth grade and saying to them “Son, work hard so you can go to college. Not only will you make a lot more money later on but this is your very best chance of getting laid. Pick the right college and you won’t even have to bother calling her back the next day. You may hate doing your math homework now, but you will be glad you did later on. Here is a copy of Playboy to inspire you to keep at it.”

I don’t know what you would want to say to your daughter, though. My mother always told me not to “give it away,” which might very well have inspired my current line of research.

Regnerus, Mark and Jeremy Uecker (2010). “Bare Market: Campus Sex Ratios, Romantic Relationships, and Sexual Behaviour.” The Sociological Quarterly Vol. 51: pp 408-435.


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