Thursday, 18 March 2010

College Students For Marriage Equality

It will not surprise anyone that college students are more supportive of same sex marriage than other groups.  Still, the detail contained in one recent survey is fascinating.  

First consider just the scale of the support: 65% of all college students support full marriage. That's "support", and "marriage".  The remaining 35% are not by any means all against - they're split between those against marriage, but support civil unions; those who are undecided or just don't care; and the remainder who are specifically opposed.  That's looks like a pretty strong endorsement, to me.

But why are college students so much more supportive of marriage than the population at large?  Is it just that they are younger, and that each age cohort is more supportive than those before them?

Digging into the data suggests that while that may be so, there is something else going on.  In 2004, 57% of people entering college were supportive.  By graduation four years later, 69% of  that same age cohort were supportive.  While it is true that support across the country has increased during those years, this jump of 12 percentage points is substantially stronger than for the country as a whole. The report does not go into reasons for this,but we can speculate.  I would suggest two complementary processes at work in the college experience. First, the greater exposure to people of different backgrounds, at just the age when many people are working out their own sexual identities, will given many students their first exposure at close quarters to out fellow students in all their diversity.  Familiarity here breeds not contempt, but acceptance. Secondly, the educational experience itself is designed to replace uncritical assumptions with sound reasoning. That too would help to change young minds.

Comparison between sub-groups is also revealing. There was clear support for same sex marriage in every religious grouping, with the greatest support from Buddhists, Jewish, and "no religion", followed by Catholics.  However, all denominations had at least 50% support.  Ethnically, support was weaker among black students than among either whites or Hispanics:  but blacks also showed the strongest differential support, when compared with their counterparts in the wider population.   

Whichever way you look at it, younger people (including religious young, and also including religious conservatives) are moving strongly still further in the direction of support for full marriage equality.

  (See the Chronicle of Higher Education)

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