Catholic Girls

Come out Virginia, don’t let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
aw But sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one

Billy Joel, “Only The Good Die Young

Apparently Billy was going after the wrong Catholic girls:

[On] college students … casual physical encounters or what some have termed “hooking up.” In this article, we examine the impact of both individual and institutional religious involvement on “hooking up” in a national sample of college women (N= 1,000). … Catholic college women are more likely to have “hooked up” while at school than college women with no religious affiliation. Second, conservative Protestant college women are less likely to have “hooked up” while at school than college women with no religious affiliation; however, this difference is mediated or explained by church attendance, which is protective against “hooking up.” Finally, women who attend colleges and universities with a Catholic affiliation are more likely to have hooked up while at school than women who attend academic institutions with no religious affiliation, net of individual-level religious involvement. …

Other work on young women’s sexual activity (Brewster et al. 1998), which shows sharply bifurcated patterns among Catholic women—those with high levels of religious commitment tend to delay sexual activity while those with lower levels of commitment display increased odds of sexual behavior compared to their unaffiliated counterparts. … Contrary to the “moral communities” thesis and to some widespread assumptions, the odds of “hooking up” are actually much higher at religious schools than at secular educational institutions. Upon closer inspection, this pattern is determined entirely by a large Catholic college effect.

I gotta admit, it is not easy to come up with a signaling explanation for this pattern.  Thanks to Alex for the Joel quote.

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  • Matt

    Guilt works in mysterious ways.
    I wonder what, if any, correlation could be made with the religiousness of the young women’s parents. I would think the more your religiousness is in line with your parents the less permiscuous you are, even if you’re atheist or agnostic.

  • tgrass

    Why move so quickly to the stereotype. Could it not be that a religion that celebrates the consumption of its savior’s body is just more carnally aware?

    The signaling pattern might be teased out of female graduation rates. Perhaps the young women of Notre Dame and St. Vincent’s are not there for their B.S. but their MRS. What are the grad rates for Catholic female college students compared to non-Catholic? Is it possible, like thse corn-fed girls of the LDS that college is merely the best place to secure a mate. The younger the girl, the better. A career may not be in the cards for the woman in the eyes of either partner.

  • J Bell

    when I saw the title of the post, I thought you were talking about the frank zappa song “catholic girls” off of “joe’s garage”…check it out and you will see that frank was going after the “right catholic girls”, if you will….

    • Joe

      For folks who are scared of listening to Frank:

      Right away
      Thats the way they go
      Every day
      Whenever their mamas take them to a show
      Pass the popcorn please
      Theres nothing like a catholic girl
      With her hand in the box
      When shes on her knees

  • The old and stereotypical explanation for the sexual activity aspect is the sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation/Confession: if a Catholic commits a sin, he confesses to a priest, does some penance, and is told that it’s forgiven. Protestants don’t have anyone who’ll explicitly forgive their sins – it’s between them and God directy.

  • two things leap to mind:

    1. catholic girls have harsher sexual ethics forced on them–their parents and community are stronger guards of their virginity, so acting more flirtatious with boys with such guardians around encourages many suitors to try to get over the high barrier–more competition is stimulated and the girl gets to choose a better suitor than if she had just been a shrinking violet behind a wall, not tempting anyone. when the barrier comes down, she accidentally goes a bit too far. with more girls getting away from their family gatekeepers, and going to school than in the past, catholic girls might end up being a bit less disciplined (they didn’t have to be very disciplined with strong gatekeepers doing the work for them) and they go further than they had been allowed in the past, when they stuck with the gatekeeper till marriage, and the stereotype might have become outdated since when billy joel wrote that song.

    2. i notice teenagers have a habit of being rebellious in general. maybe sex is just a more meaningful way to signal rebelliousness for catholic girls (what does rebelliousness signal? health? strength?), since it’s presumably more taboo than for other christian girls.

  • tgrass

    A note of caution: it is is easy to premise one’s arguments on culturally specific ideas of successful marriages. If the purpose of marriage is to raise children, regardless of income level, as it is in the Catholic Church, then getting married younger would be promoted in the community.

    Assume that Catholic parents were no different than their Catholic children, and one might argue there is tacit approval of these collegiate exploits.

    There is no reason to take a Freudian view here. Just as sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes sex is just sex. That is: it’s for procreating.

    Just because some sub cultures are willing to delay child-rearing until income is adequate to make it easy, should not mean we treat that as the norm.

  • J

    Maybe Catholics hook up more because they’re decidedly less likely to be Mormons

    • kevin

      Mormons aren’t Protestants.

  • Joe

    One thing to keep in mind here is that “being Catholic” is somewhat closer to an ethnicity (like “being Jewish”, but not that close) than “being Protestant”. This is especially true if “Protestant” includes not just mainline denominations in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation (one could be “ethnically Protestant” in the sense of being a WASP) but any non-Catholic, non-(Eastern )Orthodox like Baptist, Pentecostal, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. Many people in these groups will not self-identify as “Protestant”, and many of these communities have a much higher expectation of conformity and commitment independent of doctrine. It sounds less weird (to me, at least) to say “I’m a non-practicing Catholic” than that “I’m a non-practicing Mormon”!

    • Mikem

      This is exactly what I thought. Reading all the psychoanalytic speculation in the comments was surprising. I guess I have peculiar knowledge on this matter though, since I was raised in a catholic environment(family and k-12). Most of my peers figured by around 14 that even if you don’t buy the doctrine, it’s generally easier to just bs your way through the motions than raise it as an issue.

      The data disambiguates being religious and self-identifying with a denomination, and an explanation has to account for that. Trying to explain the promiscuity in terms of a catholic culture’s psychology doesn’t make sense since the promiscuity is inversely correlated with church-going, which is the core behavioural norm within catholic culture. The promiscuity is predominant among lay Catholics, people who would probably self-identify as atheist/unreligious if they had been born into a culture where the social cost of doing so were lower.

  • Robin,
    It’s funny how they got such data. Fieldwork or just surveys :-))
    About the signaling explanation. To say something about it, we need to know the quality of “hook ups”. What kind of guys hook up with the catholic girls? If the “hook ups” of catholic girls are uglier as compared to the “hook ups” of non-religious girls, then it means that transaction costs of the hook ups are lower for catholic girls than for non-catholic girls. The lower transaction costs, the bigger number of hook ups.

  • Nithya

    Two things:
    1. A focus on purity and virginity etc. is a focus on sexuality; and
    2. College is for many students the first real taste of freedom away from family, a ‘home’ community and highly-ordered education.

    Consequently, I think a meeting of college and ‘hooking up’ is in many ways an inevitable result for kids who have had their attention drawn to sexuality their whole lives.

    I’m curious about what precise definition of ‘hooking up’ is being used as ‘casual physical encounters’ seems rather imprecise and is perhaps open to rather creative interpretations. I also imagine that those with religious affilitations attach a greater gravity to a variety of ‘casual physical encounters’ that others, which may have implications for the findings.

  • tgrass

    Joel’s lyrics could be used as a literary corroboration of my theory that catholic women value child rearing over career (and are thus more likely to consummate because the consequences are benefits not liabilities).

    Billy Joel was a high school dropout from the class of 1967. His experience with Catholic girls very well may have been one of resistance: to both the non-college catholic girls and the girls of the Newman Club, Joel, being then a dreamer with a guitar but no money, could not have satisfied the stability desired by a young girl wanting a family.

    • Douglas Knight

      Joel, being then a dreamer with a guitar but no money, could not have satisfied the stability desired by a young girl wanting a family.

      that’s what the lyrics say: “You said your mother told you / All I could give you was a reputation”

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  • jordi

    You also don’t understand the selection bias. In some areas, Catholic schools are where kids are sent to get better academic education. In other areas — especially with good suburban schools — some Catholic schools are where BAD boys and girls get sent to keep them out of mischief. [I believe in your own Fairfax NOVA area, there are 2 boys Catholic schools which fit each stereotypical case. I don’t know the situation for girls]. So the wild Catholic girls may be heavily mixed in with those non-mass attending girls.

    This would be like looking at the bottom rung of military school students, many of whom end up there because they already have a propensity for getting into fights, etc.

    Instrumental variables anyone?

    • kevin

      These are college students, not high school.

  • It seems relatively easy to develop hypotheses that explain this sort of thing – the main problem is testing them.

  • It seems relatively easy to develop hypotheses that explain this sort of thing – the main problem is testing them.
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  • michael vassar

    Playing to a stereotype can always be understood as identity signaling, just not status signaling. Most signaling is not status signaling.

  • michael vassar

    Not conforming to a stereotype could constitute defection in an environment where agents must model one another, which is costly, in order to be confident of their safety etc.

    Or, of course, maybe catholic identity encourages boys to behave in ways that girls like while non-catholic culture largely discourages this.

  • kevin

    Well, I was raised Catholic, and I think most commenters have the wrong idea about how conservative Catholics really are. Catholics are now only slightly more culturally conservative than old mainline Protestant denominations, which are quite liberal.

    In contrast, many protestants are evangelicals, charismatics, Adventists, etc. These are very sexually conservative groups (and sex is very important to them). So I suspect the study’s finding would be the same if they looked at one specific mainline Protestant sect, compared to protestants as a whole.

  • The Inductivist already noted this.

    Are Catholics more likely to live in urban areas?

  • Perhaps the Red Hot Chili Peppers song ‘Catholic School Girls Rule’ is more appropriate in describing this study. 😉

  • fburnaby

    Perhaps a catholic girl is much less likely to be taking birth-control. There’s good reason to believe that the pill has an effect on libido. A quick Google search brought me this: . I’m honestly not sure (or don’t want to take the time to find out) where to to get more reliable info.

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  • I’m guessing it’s because Catholic girls (and let’s not forget the Catholic guys) traditional come out from a culture which (despite the stereotype to the contrary) is not sexually repressive. America, lest we forget, was founded by puritans (the ancestors of the modern day lberal) — the Catholics came over later.

    Anyway, Frank Zappa’s song “Catholic Girls” would probably have had been a better choice of a lead-in for this story.

  • ENKI-2

    This might dovetail with the reason why most satanists (of the LaVeyan variety) are catholics. Very few of my satanist friends were not raised catholic, and indeed the rituals are basically just pastiches of catholic ones. Not being raised with any religion, satanism has no draw for me, since there is nothing to directly rebel from. All in all, though, the catholic church benefits from having its constituents ignore its doctrine, and this may be one of the reasons for imposing an at-face-value impossible and draconian doctrine itself — to encourage the opposite behavior.

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