How Many Students are in Long-Distance Relationships?

By Paul A. Djupe

Lots of things change once you arrive on campus. One of them, as the conventional wisdom goes, is that relationship from the last bits of high school. That’s especially true when the college you attend is out of state – time and space put strains on relationships, especially when there’s a new dating pool. As we’ve found before, dating-adjacent relationships spike in the first year and then things slow down for a few years. But we shouldn’t think of long-distance dating as solely a first year gig. I had a gf at another college for awhile and then dated someone from a class year before mine, which we kept up when I went on to grad school. So, perhaps long distance dating is potentially an everyone experience. According to one study, 75% of students have been in a long-distance relationship.

In the October 2022 and February 2023 survey, we asked whether respondents were currently in a long-distance relationship (LDR). In October, 19.5% said yes, while 17.5% said yes by the spring, which is pretty stable. I was surprised to see that LDRs climb with class year – first years are the least likely to be in an LDR and seniors the most. However, those rates all drop by spring and the drop the most among seniors (~ 5%). Though we didn’t ask, I would assume that the senior rates reflect dating graduates and, at some point in senior year, life trajectories diverge.

The rates of LDR do not differ by gender – men, women, and trans students all have LDRs at the same rate. White students have the same rate as the overall number, while Black students are less likely (5%) and Hispanic students more likely (33%) to be in LDRs.

I was curious whether being in an LDR had any social and academic ramifications. There are no differences between those in LDRs and not in terms of their GPAs, nor in terms of how much they study. The graph below shows that the link between doing work and GPAs doesn’t change by LDR status.

Lastly, I wanted to see if those in LDRs were less social, with the idea that LDRs can be considered a shield from being able to (or having to) socialize. We asked some social support questions (from how many people can you borrow $20, get a set of notes, etc.) and there’s no difference both groups have equal amounts of social support. I also checked drinking rates (binge drinking frequency) and those also are essentially identical. Lastly, I checked to see if students in LDRs join campus orgs more often and there, too, there’s essentially no difference (LDRs are ever so slightly engaged in more groups). OK, I also checked to see if those in LDRs are more religious because there’s at least one website dedicated to Christians being in LDRs – my read of that, for what it’s worth, is that they think high school relationships are more likely to be rooted in the church, and therefore worth preserving, because college-driven relationships are likely to break that bond. But they’re not more or less religious.

Given the realities of attending a college far from your home community (which is not true of all Denisonians, of course), contemplating a long-distance relationship is going to be a common issue. What I didn’t expect is that they’d be a growing issue across class years, which I’d guess is a function of dating across class years. They’re certainly more common in the fall versus spring. And there appear to be no academic or social consequences, which is interesting because, apparently, LDRs are stressful.

Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who runs the Data for Political Research minor. He started a few years ago in a bid to subsidize collective action. He’s on Twitter and you should be too, along with your president.

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