A study which claimed that Catholic college women are likelier to “hook up” than women with no religious affiliation has been criticized by researchers. Parts of the survey report were based on a sample size of only 39 Catholic college women, while the report wrongly saw a college's religious affiliation as more influential than parents.
The Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate’s (CARA) research blog Nineteen Sixty-four relayed the researchers’ criticisms in an article titled “Replicate Before You Speculate Too Much …”
CARA discussed the peer-reviewed Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion article “‘Hooking Up’ at College: Does Religion Make a Difference?”
The study reported that Catholic women at non-Catholic and Catholic colleges display about a 72 percent increase in the odds of “hooking up” compared to women with no religious affiliation. Its results found that women at Catholic colleges and universities are almost four times as likely to have participated in “hooking up” compared to counterparts at secular schools.
CARA noted that “important methodological issues” about the survey should be considered.
First, it is difficult to know what participants in the survey meant when they said they had a “hook up.”
The concept is “very widely defined” as an incident in which “girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don’t necessarily expect anything further.” The article’s authors themselves cautioned that the term may refer to a broad range of acts from kissing to sexual relations.
The survey itself was based on a national telephone survey conducted in 2001, though the article was published in 2009.
Only six percent of the 1,000 respondents attended a Catholic college or university. Only 39 Catholic women attending Catholic colleges were interviewed for the study, out of a population conservatively estimated at 85,000.
“The margin of sampling error for 39 interviews generalizing to a population of 85,000 is +/- 15.7 percentage points,” CARA reported. These respondents attended only 16 of the 240 existing Catholic colleges and universities, an institutional sampling error of plus or minus 23.7 percentage points.
“There are simply not enough interviews with women” to generalize, CARA said, cautioning about results based on small sample sizes or subgroups.
The study itself is “rather standard practice,” CARA added, saying replication with a larger sample size would advance understanding.
Turning to the study’s analysis of potential institutional causes, CARA said the regulation of alcohol was the only potentially related cause of concern.
“From these data it is apparent that broad cultural changes are occurring within the Catholic population regarding this issue and these are unlikely to have little to do with the influence of Catholic colleges,” CARA wrote. “More so, the changes are so significant, that Catholic colleges may be greatly challenged in attempting to address it.”
A 2006 CARA Catholic poll found that only 19 percent of adult Catholics disagreed “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement that premarital sex between persons who are “committed to each other” can be morally acceptable. Another 26 percent “strongly” agreed with the statement, while another 26 percent “somewhat” agreed, totaling 52 percent of Catholic adults who rejected Catholic teaching against pre-marital sex.
Among those who attend Mass once a week or more, 19 percent agreed with the statement approving premarital sex.
CARA’s analysis found no negative or positive effect in responses connected with respondents’ enrollment in Catholic colleges. Changes among the Catholic population appear to be “much larger” than anything a Catholic college does or does not do.
“Young Catholics are often sent off to college from homes where the parents do not have attitudes regarding this issue that are consistent with Church teachings,” CARA noted.