August 26, 2015

The Price of Partying

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Can partying give you a leg up after college?

For most of us, probably not. But for well-connected, wealthy students, honing social skills and networking with similarly well-connected students provides advantages that few have access to.

This is one of Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton’s interesting findings in Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. In their long-term study of students at a Midwestern state university, they found that for college women from well-to-do families with ample business connections, academic achievement—or even a student’s major—mattered very little in the long run.

Students whose families helped them land key internships with family friends or relatives in prestigious occupations had a foot in the door that most students did not. This often translated into a job after college, landed in part because of family connections once again. The study also found that families with resources to support their young adult children--like paying for living expenses in large, expensive cities where young adults probably couldn’t live off of their starting salaries. Or at least not live the lifestyle to which they were accustomed. Pfp

Armstrong & Hamilton note that the ability to socialize during and after college enabled students to mingle with other similarly privileged people. These privileges start early. Such students feel comfortable around other people from wealthy backgrounds, have the ability to carry on conversations about topics of mutual interest, and perhaps most importantly, can appear to fit in to these social circles by wearing high-end clothing and accessories.

Does this mean that you should work more at partying than your class work? Unless you or your family has very deep pockets and professional networks, the answer is decidedly no.

The authors of the study found that even students who come from stable middle-income families pay a price for choosing what they term the “party pathway.” These students found that their grades and majors mattered a whole lot more than they did for their wealthier peers on the job market. While their families might have been able to pay for their college tuition and living expenses, that support did not continue after graduation, making large expensive cities—and the sometimes glamorous careers within those cities— all but out of reach on a starting salary. If their grades suffered as a result of their partying, attempts to further their education in graduate school might not be possible either.

Some students had to take out student loans to finance their education, which they were expected to pay after graduation. If they belonged to sororities, this often meant more fees (and parties) that they had to finance and pay back for years to come.

Not all students are interested in or have access to the party pathway. Lower income students who had to work evenings and weekends often didn’t have the time. Even if they had an interest, Armstrong & Hamilton observed that they were often ignored by the socialites on their floor and not invited to go out with them. In a social environment where clothes and accessories mattered, even economically stable students might not have the clothes and accessories that marked them as high status.

And status mattered quite a bit at the college the authors studied. In addition to expensive clothes, affording things like tanning salons and other cosmetic enhancements marked a woman as high status. This made it more likely that other similarly situated students would befriend her, and that she might join a high-status sorority.

Perhaps most troubling, women who were not considered high status were often more at-risk of sexual assault. The authors note:

Affluent women arrived at college well versed in a long list of practical party rules imparted by mothers and older siblings…. Having a high rank in the campus social scene also protected them, as men were held more accountable to well-connected women. Indeed, insulting a highly ranked woman in a top sorority was akin to affronting her whole sorority, and disrespecting a girlfriend or friend of fraternity member was equally risky (p. 91).

The authors note that well-connected women might have attended frat parties in high school and have more of a sense of what kinds of clothing would mark them as attractive rather than as simply “available.”

Before reading this book, I had very little insight into the party pathway—despite spending most of my life working on a college campus and/or attending college. It never appealed to me, and the authors certainly found others who could afford to be part of the scene who had little interest in participating.

I was responsible for paying part of my tuition and was all too aware of how much it cost and how much it would cost in the future to skip classes or do any less than my best work. Some of Armstrong & Hamilton’s participants ended up going back to take classes towards other majors and reported a very different perspective on college when they were paying for it.

Either way, someone pays for the party. The authors describe how those who can afford it can partake a party-driven college experience, presuming they do just enough work to remain academically eligible. For everyone else, the party pathway can be very costly—economically, but also socially and emotionally for the many who feel alienated and disconnected during their college years.


That is a topic that carries a lot of weight when it comes to the very fabric the human race survives on: socializing. Extrapolate the point that regress in networking by those not partying denies them social skills at being able to interact successfully with others later in life. Another of those skills: conversation. Time away from the socializing generations prior were more involved in (before the prevalence of the online realm) is sure starving our society of its very fundamental thread?

I think that this is a a very good topic to consider seeing as how i will be attending college soon hopefully and i thank your blogsite for touching upon this topic is there anyway you could focus a bit more on college? thank you

Really interesting area of study this, I'm going to try and get my hands on this book at some point.

This discussion reflects on different stereotypes in society. In one aspect, being born with a silver spoon in your mouth may get your farther faster so education comes second nature to partying, however, students who have to work harder to be accepted may have a better work ethic and achieve the responsibility to obtain and retain a job because education was their first priority

This article had some very interesting points. Before I read this I have never even considered what parties you went to and how well you were connected to the people there would effect the type of jobs when you could get when you finish. Another thing is when it said "college women from well-to-do families with ample business connections, academic achievement—or even a student’s major—mattered very little in the long run," I was completely dumbfounded. How could your academic successes mean so little in the long run. After I finished the article I understood. C

This made me realize the significance of something I participate in on a regular basis, yet rarely think twice about. As someone from a decently privileged background, I’ve been eble to rely on my family far more than most. It’s hard for me to imagine having to pay for everything on my own but I know many of my peers are forced to. This distinction of classes is all too often overlooked by those who don’t encounter the daily struggles. This reminds me of a movie I watched recently called The Preppie Connection about a poor boy attending a highly esteemed prep school filled with extremely wealthy teens. In the movie, they all get in serious legal trouble due to drug involvement, yet the rich families with connections get their kids out scot-free. The boy who lacked these advantages’ future was ruined. Sociologically, these differences between classes are imperative to be conscious of and attempt to correct. I believe Sternheimer’s purpose for writing this article is to inform the masses of the issues which lie within the gap between social classes. I agree with her that this is a pressing issue. As a college student, this article appealed to me on a personal level. Partying is inevitably something all college students come into contact with. They may choose however, whether or not to participate. While I wholeheartedly sympathize with Sternheimer’s regrettable findings, I’m not sure if I entirely agree with her statement “Either way, someone pays for the party.” Is moderation out of the question? I know many straight-A students who indulge in weekend shenanigans. While wealthy college students may come into contact with other wealthy students, wouldn’t it be fair to say the lower-class students have more to gain in social networking? I think all of Sternheimer’s points are accurate and eye-opening. However, whether or not partying comes with a cost is up to the individual. Some can handle the delicate balancing act while others drunkenly tip the scale.

Cristian Loza (K00622036d) (CRN 61383)

Even though I am from the upper middle class, I never really fit in with all the others of party pathway. So with that I’d like to say I both agree and disagree with Sternheimer (depending on the point made).
Where she discusses how wealth will determine whether or not a person decides to interact with another I highly disagree with. People will get along based on their personalities and how well they can relate with one another. Yes, I suppose there are a few instances where wealth and prestige does play a small role but amongst most people it doesn’t make a difference. Growing up I was always taught that I needed to work hard for what I wanted in life as it would not be simply handed to me. Although this was the way I was raised, I myself do enjoy a good party among friends. I feel as though Sternheimer relies too much on social status to determine whether or not a person would enjoy the party life or not. She ignores the idea that students vary on their own traits and some are simply more extraverted than others. For example, I myself am very introverted, so normally I would decline an invite to a college party regardless of who invited me as I simply would much rather just do my own thing.
Another topic of hers I found interesting was of how clothing and accessories etc. can separate/make people more popular amongst others. Growing up I always felt as though I never fit in because of what I wore. I always worried that clothes I wore reflected that I was not one of the “cool kids” and that I needed to wear the appropriate clothing if I wanted to be accepted. But what I learned was all of that was just an illusion created by society and the media. What I realized was that all the “cool kids” got along due to the fact they were simply just friends and getting nice clothes would not instantaneously make me their friend as well.
Partying has become sort of a social staple in the lives of young adults. We tend to label ourselves depending on how many parties we attend and how well we do at said party. This generation is a very material one, we gauge and judge another based on what we have and don’t as well as what we do and don’t do. We must learn that people are all different, and we shouldn’t judge another just because they are socially different.

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