“Hook-Up Culture,” this time with Science(tm)

Researchers at a university in the Southern United States asked a fairly small sample of students about their dating preferences — whether they preferred “traditional” dating, or whether they just wanted to hook up. The data shows that “Overall, both genders showed a preference for traditional dating over hooking up.” But guess how the story was reported.

As hooking up takes over from dating as a means of heterosexual interaction on university campuses, more women than men continue to prefer dating whereas more men than women rate hooking up above dating.

I understand that’s more interesting than “most of the people surveyed preferred dating, regardless of their gender,” but it seems a little… irresponsible? Misleading? The article continues, focusing on the Amazing Gender Differences That Confirm Our Expectations:

However, of those students who strongly preferred traditional dating, there were significantly more women than men (41 percent versus 20 percent). Of those who showed a strong preference for hooking up, there were far fewer women than men (2 percent versus 17 percent). However, context mattered: when considering the possibility of a long-term relationship, both women and men preferred dating over hooking up; however, when the possibility of a relationship was not mentioned, men preferred hooking up and women preferred dating.

On the whole, men and women agreed on the benefits and risks of dating and hooking up.

However, there were some notable differences:

Women more than men seem to want a relationship. They fear, both in dating and hooking up, that they will become emotionally attached to a partner who is not interested in them.

Men more than women seem to value independence. They fear that even in hooking up relationships, which are supposed to be free of commitments, a woman might seek to establish a relationship.

So Science Says that women still want relationships! Men must be lured in!

Except, sadly, Science is not quite so clear as the article would suggest. From the study itself:

A limitation of this—and indeed most research on hooking up—is that our sample was a convenience sample composed primarily of White, heterosexual, first-year college students. Indeed, very little research has been conducted on samples from other populations. Further research needs to address whether the preferences for dating versus hooking up remain consistent across the college years and occur with equal frequency across non- college students of the same age, of other racial and ethnic groups, and with other sexual orientations.

A convenience sample, as I understand it, can’t really be applied to the broader population — it is pretty much only relevant to the surveyed individuals. So the finds of this study are, essentially, that these 150 women and 75 men have certain preferences. And these 150 women and 75 men are from a pretty narrow segment of the population. In other words: Non-findings.

Ugh, Science, you are so hard.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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10 Responses to “Hook-Up Culture,” this time with Science(tm)

  1. phira says:

    Actually, it IS irresponsible to report the study’s finding this way. You’re not even nit-picking; if the scientists who wrote the paper made the same statements as the writers of the article about the study, the study would have been torn apart in review.

  2. a lawyer says:

    I think a convenience sample may be generalizable to other individuals with the same general distribution of traits. It may at least be generalizable to white heterosexual college freshmen in the U.S. Or maybe the South? It’s a pretty minimal finding but the world of social science is filled with minimal findings.

  3. Brennan says:

    You know how sociologists often get “convenience samples” of first-year undergraduates? They stand around dining halls and dorm commons offering candy bars to anyone who will fill out a survey. It’s a very scientific process, obviously. It’s meant mostly to raise new questions and open new avenues of research. And then some idiot writes an article misreporting their data and generalizing it to the entire population. Gah!

  4. matlun says:

    The “convenience sample” consisted of students from one specific university. A common sense analysis should tell everyone that this sample will not be representative for society as a whole. For example my (anecdotal) experiences tell me that many of the male students that preferred hook-ups will have changed their opinions within a few years.

    That being said, I think this could still be an interesting study (hard to say without reading the source study). It clearly illustrates that there are gender differences in dating patterns (which should not be surprising to anyone) and makes an attempt to document these differences.

    PS. Small nitpick: It was 150 women and 71 men. Not 150 and 75.

  5. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    Well yes. There are problems with generalization from a convenience sample. The proper response isn’t “hurr durr, convenience sample.” It’s recruiting a better sample with a larger cross-section of participants.

    But I despair about reading good write-ups of social science research anymore.

  6. Thomas says:

    Can the mainstream media simply give up reporting science results? Reading media reports of what one study finds, outside the context of the body or research to which it belongs, is not very useful even if they properly report the results, which so often they don’t.

  7. Gembird says:

    Gah. Stuff like this makes me want to cry. Articles about studies written by people who don’t understand the scientific method (or the limitations thereof, or the fact that we talk about confounding factors for damn good reasons) always, ALWAYS get things horribly wrong. They make conclusions that aren’t in the paper they’re talking about. They sometimes just make stuff up. A lot of the time, they’re not even talking about peer-reviewed articles- there was one example here in Britain where a newspaper article pretty much extrapolated bullshit from a Masters student’s final project and the student was horrified that nobody would listen to her protests without being like, “Oh so you take it all back now eh?”

    I don’t know if it’s just ignorance- which can be solved easily if people are willing to listen to us nerds every once in a while- or contempt for sciences (both ‘hard’ and social sciences, we all get the same treatment) but whatever it is, it bugs me.

  8. Athenia says:

    I could be wrong about this, but I hear women usually want to hook up when they’re on vacation. SO THERE!

  9. a lawyer says:

    But I despair about reading good write-ups of social science research anymore.

    I don’t think they’re any better with the hard sciences.

  10. Trina says:

    They’re definitely not – Bad Science can barely keep up with the nonsense. When presented with any evidence the media usually wander off to the point they wanted to make in the first place, especially with all this “men want sex, women want relationships” crap and anything about cancer.

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