Do You Think You Were “Crazier” than Today’s College Kids? You’re Probably Right.

Matt Hay

August 2018

Do You Think You Were “Crazier” than Today’s College Kids? You’re Probably Right.

Fuse believes that Gen Z’s behaviors are often more important than trends, because behaviors are stable, often lasting for a decade or more. A brand can build a strategy around long-term behaviors, where doing so around a trend is precarious. And we are fortunate to be living at a time when Gen Z’s behavior is actually more fascinating than any short-term trend.

Among the most interesting behavioral shifts is the decline of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “risk behaviors” by college students. The college years, a life-stage traditionally defined by experimentation, have given way to restraint.

In July 2018, Fuse conducted a study of 2,000 college students to better understand their attitudes about risk behaviors. Here are four to pay attention to:


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Three Million Fewer Binge Drinkers

According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, in 2005 45% of college students participated in binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks at one time.) Ten years later, that number has shrunk to 37%. Adjusted for overall college enrollment, that represents a decrease in binge drinking of 3 million college students. This development however is tempered by an increase in other alcohol-related risk behaviors, specifically drinking and driving.

In the Fuse study, more than 30% of college students indicated they had, in the last 12 months, either consumed alcohol and drove or were a passenger in a vehicle in which the driver had been drinking alcohol. In Fuse’s previous research, the primary reason students cited for not finding an alternate means of transportation was the social pressure they felt to “not make a scene.” But in its 2018 study, “thinking the driver was ok to drive” was the main reason students did not seek alternative transport.


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The Era of Marijuana Legalization

Drug use among young people continues to decline to historic levels according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In fact, while many communities across the country have been devastated by it, the opioid crisis has all but spared college students. Marijuana is the most commonly used drug on campuses, but the rapid change of marijuana laws throughout the U.S. (recreational marijuana is now legal in 9 states and Washington, DC) seems to have had little effect on its use. According to the National Institute of Health, daily marijuana use on campus has only risen slightly from 4.3% to 4.9% in the last ten years. While the effects of legalization may have had little impact on its use, it does seem to be changing attitudes about marijuana.

According to our study, various forms of peer pressure to use marijuana have faded, while “to relieve stress” and “because it feels good” are the main reasons college students use marijuana.


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The Myth of Hookup Culture

Given the extensive media coverage about hookup culture on college campuses, it’s hard to believe that college students are having less sex than twenty years ago. But according to the International Academy of Sex Research which studies the field of sexual science, that’s the case. It’s a trend that seems to begin with high school age teens, with the CDC reporting a significant decline in the percentage of sexually active teens from 35% in 2007 to 28% in 2017.

53% of Fuse’s college age respondents indicated not engaging in sex in the previous twelve months. Of that group, 38% cited “not having found the right partner,” while 35% mentioned “not interested right now” as the reason. Lastly, Fuse’s data suggests an uptick in value-based reasons for abstaining with 8% of respondents citing their religious beliefs, belief in abstinence, or waiting until marriage.


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Driving and Texting – A Risk Behavior That Continues to Grow

Automobile accidents are the leading cause of death among young people and distracted driving is among the few risk behaviors that continues on an upward trend. According to the National Institutes of Health, 50% of young drivers reported sending texts while driving on the freeway, 60% while in stop-and-go traffic or on city streets, and a whopping 87% text at traffic lights! Despite some public outcry and a handful of campaigns to combat the issue, few college students seem to have been swayed.

According to Fuse’s study, only about a quarter of college students use a hands-free device while driving and even fewer use a text-blocker. Students have a higher confidence in their own abilities than they have in others. In the NIH study, 46% of young people said they were capable or very capable of talking on a cell phone and driving, but they felt that only 8.5% of other drivers were capable. Fuse’s study indicated much the same sentiment about texting, with the majority of college students indicating the reason they don’t use a text blocker as, “I can drive safely and text if needed.”

Contact us to learn more about teen and young adult behavior.