Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mate Selection in the College Campus

As a factor affecting mate selection, the college situation is, in a sense, only a special combination of factors we have already considered. If vicinal proximity of and by itself has any influence, then the small college in particular offers an opportunity par excellence for this factor to operate. Even the large university is often a rather closely knit community from the standpoint of its physical plant -- its dormitories, laboratories, and classroom buildings. But this factor is made significant, again, as in the case of residential areas in urban communities, by factors that determine social nearness and distance.

Attending a college or university is in itself an occupation, so that vicinal proximity is given meaning by the underlying factor of occupational propinquity. Then, too, the relative sameness of their socioeconomic class backgrounds gives college students more interest in common, more likelihood of speaking a "common language," and a greater sharing of common "social definitions of the situation" -- all of which quite obviously facilitate heightened participation and social interaction.
While recognizing that college students tend to come to a large extent from a relatively small stratum of the outside society, we would be blinding ourselves to important factors in mate selection if we were to ignore the existence of stratification on the college and university campus. However narrow in comparison to the breadth of stratification in our outside society the segments from which college and university students are drawn, there nevertheless exists on most campuses a fairly complex class structure, indigenous to the college itself and considered as a little society. 19 This class structure, on the one hand, tends both to reflect and magnify the relatively slight class differences in the larger society from which the students came and, on the other, to be a function of goals, many of them conflicting, peculiar to the campus in question.

There has been much over-simplification of this problem of social stratification in connection with descriptions of courtship patterns on college campuses. It has frequently been assumed that fraternity affiliation and football feats are the principal factors in placing the individual on the college social scale. It is further assumed that this scale has virtually universal recognition on each campus and that those who do not accept its validity consciously and overtly are merely those who rank low on that scale and who are thus manifesting nothing more than a "sour-grapes psychology" when they maintain they do not subscribe to the values such a scale objectifies.

We must remember that no generally acceptable set of concepts has been developed for describing the social stratification which exists in the larger American society. Our society is multivalued, and many of the gradients measured in terms of some of these values cut right across gradients expressing others. While monetary success, for example, is unquestionably the strongest value, professional, service, and skill successes often carry little money reward, although they have their effects on social stratification. So, in a similar fashion, each little campus "world" is multivalued and it is thus in the nature of a value judgment to assume that one cluster of values (in this case, fraternity and football values) with its attendant objectification in terms of a social hierarchy is the only, the "real," basis for social gradation which everyone "really" accepts.

Everyone on a college campus is pegged somewhere on a "rating scale" with respect to dating, an idea all of a piece with his notion of a "scale of courtship desirability." This suggestion presupposes, implicitly or explicitly, a single value or else a cluster of consistent values in accordance with which the individual can be measured. To demonstrate the validity of this construct it is not enough to show that a few individuals have numbers of dates all out of proportion to the number which the average student has or that many individuals have virtually no dates at all; one has to go ahead and show that a single set of standards is operating on a campus-wide scale in such a way as to bring about these differences in dating and courtship popularity. Because of the multivalued character of the campus such a single scale is obviously nonexistent.

Instead of advancing the hypothesis that social stratification on American campuses is a function of the football-and-fraternity complex, we ought, if we are to derive predictive results from it, to use this hypothesis to build a constructed type. In conjunction with this constructed type we might then set up several other constructed types, for there are many of the six or seven hundred colleges in this country in which neither the football complex nor fraternity life plays a very significant part in the scaling of individual and group status and, moreover, the peculiar roles of this sport and this form of social life vary significantly from one period to another on any one campus. We might, for instance, build other ideal or constructed types relative to social stratification around the following themes: the fraternityless college, the football-less college, the "crowd" -- or spontaneous and shifting social grouping -- college, the religion-centered college, the "educational mission" college, the "streetcar" college, and the like.

Against this background of general values varying from campus to campus and from one era to another on any particular campus, are a welter of standards of the multifold congeniality groups. These groups, while always reflecting or reacting to the values of the dominant culture and more immediately to the values implicit in the particular cultural atmosphere of the campus in question, nevertheless have unique and distinctive values of their own. They get themselves going around a tremendous variety of interests and activities -- card playing, movie following, common religious interest, "social consciousness" or "social cause" of some variety (eg., Marxism, world federalism, Zionism, trade unionism), riding, hosteling, record playing, revolt, Freudianism, malicious gossiping, dating, shooting pool, common crisis experiences (celebrated in their retelling), discussions of sex, and an almost endless list of others, singly or in a variety of combinations and sequences. Each of these groups has its own unique values and goals. These affect the picture of the ideal mate. Thus it is highly unreasonable to presume that there is a single scale of courtship desirability along which every student on a campus is pegged. There are, rather, as many scales as there are differing groups, and it is in these groups that the individual's popularity is made or broken.

That those high on the scale of their little social worlds should tend to pair off with partners similarly rated is an obvious probability. But social interaction is much more complex than even this indicates. Such a mechanical "rating" view presumes a behaviorism that is entirely external, overt, and observable. Actually it is "selves" that are in interaction, not biological organisms. The significance of this is that each self "works over" other persons' estimates, status ascriptions, expectations, and assumptions regarding himself in both his internal feeling and thinking processes and in his overt responses. Externally he may be virtually indistinguishable from someone who rates rather high on the scale.

The difference lies in his own picture of himself -- the role he considers himself to be playing -- and this picture of himself in turn is a response to the roles of others which he has internalized and made a part of himself. We never react to purely biological entities. We are basically responding to other people's pictures of themselves as these are communicated to us and as we reconstruct them in accordance with our own conceptions of our own selves. In a society whose culture is as discontinuous, split, conflicting, and internally contradictory in its status and role assignments as that of an American college campus, this notion of "interaction of selves" is highly important. We cannot otherwise understand the "ratings" of any person on the scale of "courtship desirability."

But there are other problems of assortative mating relative to status and role on the college campus. Coeducational colleges would seem to be ideal mating agencies, for they serve to throw young men and women of marriageable age together in an atmosphere of leisure and considerable freedom. In fact, most coeducational colleges have been referred to at one time or another as "marriage mills." Nevertheless, a number of factors have resulted in a rather high nonmarriage rate among college graduates. One of these factors is related to the pattern of "getting established" or "on one's feet" before a young man marries. If he plans to enter a profession a young man may expect to spend a number of years in graduate or professional school after graduating from college.

Even if his ambition does not require him to pursue postgraduate training, he usually expects to spend a few years working before marrying. A young woman, on the other hand, is usually ready to marry upon graduation. But she must face the fact that most of the young men she had known in college are not ready to marry. She is also handicapped by "mating gradient," or the tendency for a young man to marry someone of lower intelligence, educational achievement, or social status than his own, while a young woman, on the other hand, plans to marry someone at least as educated, intelligent, and of as high social status as herself.

The result is that many a young man postpones marriage so long that he never gets married or, if he does marry, chooses a young woman who either did not go to college or did not complete her college course, while many a young college-trained woman can find no one who meets her exacting requirements and is, at the same time, ready to marry. This situation is serious for young women, for their chances of marriage decline rapidly after the age of twenty-five, in contrast with the fact that men can delay marriage for a considerable time without seriously reducing their ability to find mates.

The actual situation is even darker than this would indicate, for women who are able to go to college are, on the average, from higher socioeconomic strata than are the men. This is attributable to the assumption, by no means dead, that college training is a useful investment in professional training as far as young men are concerned but is primarily a luxury for the principal purpose of adding "polish"'and "culture" and maintaining high social status as far as young women are concerned.

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