Is Hookup Culture About Money as Much as Sex?


NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Millennials have proudly laid claim to creating a "hookup culture," an era of casual sex with no strings attached. But is there a financial motivation behind this "social change"?

Michelle Juergen, writing in a piece for Policymic called "The Economics of Hookup Culture," appears to be saying so. For Gen Y, it seems to go along the lines of: the economy is bad, we can't get a job, we can't afford to live anywhere else but in our parent's basement -- so we're hooking up instead of settling down.

"Instead of passing judgment on Millennials, we should be looking at the many external factors responsible for this shift," Juergen writes. "Millennials' formerly bright futures took a huge blow, thanks to the recession. Now we bunk with Mom and Dad, take paid internships because we can't get entry-level jobs and eat a lot of Hot Pockets. So, yes, we're going to take each other out for a very cheap drink, and not a fancy dinner. We're going to make out at parties in front of our friends, because we can't bring someone home to our parents' house."

Dr. Marina Adshade, author of Dollars and Sex (Chronicle, 2013) and professor at the Vancouver School of Economics, believes the fundamental financial theory that most applies is the law of supply and demand, especially on the college campus.

"Because there are many women competing for more scarce men, the preferences of men are dominating," Adshade told MainStreet. "And the preference of men are to have more short-term relationships. There are so few men, that women really compete for their attention. That makes it easier for them to send a text message out at 10 o'clock at night saying, 'Hey, why don't you come over?' and women are more willing to do that."

But Adshade also believes that recent economic turmoil may be playing a role in the potential development of the hookup culture of Millennials.

"The widening income distribution -- the gap between those who 'have' and those who 'have-not' -- has put the fear of God into them," she says. "They don't want to end up on the other end of that divide. They're in college, they're young, they're working and they're thinking about their future and they're scared sh*tless that they're going to end up at the bottom of the heap, so they're not thinking about long-term relationships. They see those as costly, because they see those potentially interfering with their career."

But the hookup culture may not be a manifestation of social change or even the result of financial fear -- as much as a myth. A University of Portland study challenges the notion that Millennials – and college students in particular – are having more sex with no strings attached.

"This implies that the college campus has become a more sexualized environment and that undergraduates are having more sex than in the past," says study co-author Martin Monto, a sociology professor at the University of Portland. "We were surprised to find this is not the case."

In their study, Monto and co-author Anna Carey used a nationally representative sample from the General Social Survey of more than 1,800 18- to 25-year-olds, who had graduated from high school and completed at least one year of college. The researchers then compared responses from 1988 to 1996 with those from 2002 to 2010, the era that researchers often describe as characterized by a "hookup culture."

"We found that college students from the contemporary or 'hookup era' did not report having more frequent sex or more sexual partners during the past year, or more sexual partners since turning 18, than undergraduates from the earlier era," says Monto.

Among the 1988 to 1996 cohort, 65.2% reported having sex weekly or more often in the past year, compared to 59.3% of college students from the "hookup era." In addition, 31.9% of the earlier cohort reported having more than one sexual partner in the past year, compared with 31.6% of contemporary college students. Also, 51.7% of the earlier group reported having more than two sexual partners after turning 18, compared to 50.5% of the 2002 to 2010 cohort.

"Our results provide no evidence that there has been a sea change in the sexual behavior of college students or that there has been a significant liberalization of attitudes towards sex," says Monto.

Adshade agrees.

"You know, it's adorable teaching university students," she says. "I teach a course on the economics of sex and love and every year every student thinks they're having sex way more than anybody else could ever have had sex before. It's so funny, because I say to them, 'You know people your age who are not university students are having sex more frequently that you do?' -- and they say, 'Oh no, that's not true!'"


Well, it's not a competition, but perhaps the "hookup culture" is a bit of a fallacy. Millennials should know that their parents – and perhaps even grandparents – were a part of the Sexual Revolution over the past 50 years. The hookup culture is much the same, except it's sex without somebody having to buy dinner first.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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