Women Feeling More Stress in College

AMcAuliffe (AMcAuliffe@edc.org)
Tue, 26 Jan 1999 08:56:18 -0500

Forwarded from HECNews.

Monday, January 25, 1999

Women Feeling More Stress in College

School: Freshmen say they are 'overwhelmed,' worry more than male
counterparts, according to nationwide survey. Growing gender gap is linked
in part to lifestyle differences.

By KENNETH R. WEISS, Times Education Writer

Women have closed the gender gap in college enrollment, but another gap has
widened: College women are working harder and feeling more stress while
their male counterparts are having a good time.

In a nationwide survey of college freshmen to be released today, women are
five times as likely to be anxious as men, reporting they frequently felt
"overwhelmed by all I have to do."

These young women are smoking more than men. More of them say they
frequently felt depressed in the last year, more are worried about paying
for college and feel insecure about their physical and emotional health.

Gender differences in lifestyle seem to contribute to the growing stress
gap. During the last year, teenage men spent considerably more time
exercising, partying, watching TV and playing video games, while women were
juggling more household and child care chores, studying more and doing more
volunteer work.

"Men are spending more time doing things that inherently can be more fun,"
said Linda J. Sax, director of the 33rd annual survey, conducted by UCLA's
Higher Education Research Institute.

"Meanwhile, these young women are taking on more and more responsibilities
and feel stressed by all they have to do."

Survey founder Alexander W. Astin calls the stress gap, which began widening in
the mid-1980s, "one of the ironies of the women's movement."

"It's an inevitable consequence of women adding more commitments and
responsibilities on top of all the other things they have to cope with," he

Astin, who has tracked shifting student attitudes for 35 years, notes that
college students are experiencing an early version of the stress that
"super-moms" feel later in life--pursuing a career, maintaining a household
and raising kids.

Pretty soon, he predicted, life insurance tables will start changing, too.
Now, women live on average several years longer than men, a fact that some
experts have attributed to lower stress levels among women.

If all that isn't enough, here's another producer of anxiety, at least for
those women interested in the dating scene: Women make up nearly 56% of
college enrollment and the female majority is expected to grow over the next

A group of freshmen at UCLA said the survey results seemed pretty much on
target. Some of the women said they often feel overwhelmed: They "stressed"
about getting into UCLA. Then they felt stressed about whether attending
UCLA was their best option. Now, they're worried about making new
friends--and even which classes to take.

To hear Jessica Wolf tell it, time is already running short at age 18. With
one term behind her, she needs to hurry up and declare an academic major.
"There is more pressure to succeed and be more than a mother and homemaker," she
said. "By the time I finally get to a point in my career where I'm a success,
I'll have to stop work to start a family. So I need to know what I'm doing now."

The annual American Freshman Survey, the nation's oldest and most
comprehensive assessment of student behavior and attitudes, canvassed
383,815 of the 1.6 million first-year students at colleges and universities
in the United States.

Nearly 71% of women were at least somewhat concerned about financing their
college education, compared to 58.5% of men. About 16.5% of women said they
smoked frequently within the last year, compared to about 15% of men. Nearly 11%
of women reported that they frequently felt depressed, compared to 7.3% of men.

About 38% of women reported they frequently "felt overwhelmed" with all they had
to do, compared to a mere 7.3% of men. Comparing their emotional health with
their peers, 58.2% of men considered themselves above average or in the top 10%
for people their age. Only 47.5% of women considered themselves above average or

Men were also far more sure about their physical health, with nearly 65%
ranking themselves above average or in the top 10% of their peers. Only
about 46% of women had such confidence.

"Body image is a huge part of it," said freshman Tara Firenzi, a blue-eyed,
blond-haired dancer. "I've been stressed out since I got to UCLA. You just
look around and say, 'Jeez, she's a size 2.' "

Survey director Sax said she and other college officials worry about such
insecurities. "Women often express less confidence in their abilities, even
though their performance is often better than men."

To be sure, young women may be more likely than young men to own up to
feelings of stress or depression. But unless female teenagers have become
more forthcoming--or males less so--the difference in their willingness to
discuss their feelings would not account for the widening of the stress gap
over the last decade.

The survey also revealed other trends, including its first snapshot of the
remarkable number of students using the Internet.

A whopping 82.9% of freshmen said they use the Internet for research or
homework, and nearly two-thirds communicate via e-mail, the survey showed.
About four out of five freshmen play computer games, and a little more than
half regularly join in online discussions in chat rooms.

"Part of what I was looking forward to in college was the Internet network,"
said Rizwan Kassim, a self-professed computer junkie living in a UCLA freshman
dorm. "I have no intention of leaving here until I can secure
high-speed access off campus."

But Internet access is not equal for all students.

Although about 80% of students attending private universities use e-mail,
that figure falls to only about 41% at traditionally black colleges.

When comparing incoming freshmen who had used the Internet for homework or
research at least once in the last year, however, the disparity between
students from private universities and black colleges was much less
pronounced. This suggests that students had Internet access in either their
high schools or public libraries.

But such access seems to vary widely in the home, given the spread of
students who reported frequent or occasional use of e-mail. Broken down by
ethnicity, 79.3% of Asian American students reported at least occasional use of
e-mail, compared to 68.3% of whites, 42.5% of African Americans, 51.7% of
Mexican Americans and 65.2% of all other Latinos.

As schools incorporate computers into their curriculum, Astin said,
"colleges and universities should be aware of the different levels of
computing experience among incoming freshmen."

Source: http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/ASECTION/t000007602.html

Forwarded by the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other
Drug Prevention. For more information, see our website at

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