Years ago, we reported on the shockingly effective college-to-Wall Street pipeline established by Sigma Chi Epsilon, a fraternity whose members made it a goal to build a “little fraternity on Wall Street.” By offering insider tips, as well as offers to intervene on candidates’ behalf, members of the fraternity have helped populate banks like J.P. Morgan, BofA and Wells Fargo with fellow alumni – helping them beat odds three times steeper than the Princeton admissions rate.
Now, a new study by researchers at Union College in Schenectady has confirmed what that story appeared to suggest. That despite the constant distraction from academics that fraternity membership represents, students who join reap the benefits of the associated professional network for years to come, MarketWatch reports.
Of course, these benefits come with a tradeoff: The study showed that being a member of a fraternity also makes you dumber.
“Being a member of a fraternity in college lowers a student's GPA by approximately 0.25 points on the traditional four-point scale, but raises future income by around 36%, according to a paper, “Social Animal House: The Economic and Academic Consequences of Fraternity Membership,” published by two economists from Union College in Schenectady, New York. “For this reason, joining a fraternity may be a rational decision that improves the long-term prospects of an individual student despite its damaging effects on a student’s grades,” the paper concluded.”
These results suggest that fraternity membership causally produces large gains in social capital, which more than outweigh its negative effects on human capital for potential members,” they concluded. “These findings suggest that college administrators face significant trade-offs when crafting policies related to Greek life on campus.” They surveyed 3,762 alumni from a liberal Northeastern college who work full-time and also adjusted for the statistical impact of age, gender and ethnicity on a person’s income.”
While fraternities have frequently been the subject of unflattering press coverage in recent years – the Penn State hazing-death case being one example - about the culture of rape and dangerous risk-taking that fraternities perpetuate, the study’s results offer a strong argument for universities to keep Greek life programs: namely, that the organizations offer at least some long-term benefits to members.
“Despite the partying and troubling headlines that fraternity life involving hazing and sexual assault in recent years, supporters of fraternities say there’s another side to Greek life. Among them, they provide academic support for students and social connections that can last a lifetime. Studies at the American University in Washington, D.C. and other colleges have found that Greek life results in higher GPAs. Fraternity alumni programs, LinkedIn groups, online communities all help foster strong social ties that are designed to last a lifetime across different generations of members of the same fraternity.”
The study’s authors explained that they controlled specifically for the impact of social connections by correcting the data to factor out other behavioral tendencies of fraternity life – like excessive alcohol consumption.
“Alcohol-related behavior did not explain much of the effects of fraternity membership, the latest study found. Fraternity membership lowers grades by 0.18 to 0.42 points. Controlling for alcohol-related behavior reduces this estimate only slightly - by about 0.03 to 0.05 points.
“This suggests that, despite its visibility, alcohol consumption plays a relatively minor role,” the paper concluded. Because the data was collected from workers from ages 25 to 65, it incorporates the effect of Greek membership on lifetime earnings - not just on earnings in the first job after college.
As MarketWatch explains, other studies have also proven that alcohol consumption has myriad negative repercussions for individuals, most notably by lowering the odds of attaining full-time employment after graduation.
“However, heavy drinking just six times a month reduces the probability that a new college graduate will land a job by 10%, according to researchers at Tel Aviv University and Cornell University published in the peer-reviewed academic journal “Journal of Applied Psychology.” Alcohol is a depressant that impacts motor functions and brain activity. The authors suggest that each individual episode of student binge-drinking during a month-long period lowers the odds of attaining full-time employment upon graduation by 1.4%.”
In summary, the study effectively proves the old saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” But then again, we imagine readers – particularly, American readers - have long suspected this to be accurate.