We explored gender and race differences in the relative importance placed on certain symbolic activities previously identified by the dating literature as constituting such rituals. Men, overall, place more emphasis on gifting, as well as sexual activity. Gender differences, however, are significantly greater among African Americans 1 as compared to Whites in our sample.
African American respondents are also significantly more likely than White respondents to associate meeting the family with a more serious dating relationship. Our findings highlight the need for greater efforts to uncover and account for racial differences in dating, relationships, and courtship. Nonetheless, courtship has always been placed at one end of a continuum, with a permanent partnership traditionally marriage as the ultimate goal Bailey, Such relationship progressions may take the form of loosely defined stages not marked by deliberate decisions, but by various actions taken by the couple e.
In this study we examine perceptions of a range of potential relationship markers. We believe there is still much to learn about courtship practices, particularly the extent to which anticipated practices may differ not only by gender but also by race. The absence of a known ritual may mark the relationship as having failed to reach a certain level of commitment. There are several areas of research that explore dating attitudes and behaviors.
In another vein, the public eye and much recent scholarly literature on dating has turned primarily to the sexual experiences of heterosexual college students, arguing that pathways to dating and serious relationships are becoming more diverse and less formal Gilmartin, ; Hamilton and Armstrong We suggest that some basic questions regarding group differences in the symbolic meaning of dating elements have yet to be examined. The central research questions we seek to answer with this study are whether and how the significance of particular dating rituals are patterned by gender and race simultaneously.
We use a racially diverse data set of traditional-aged college students from a variety of college contexts. Understanding gender and racial differences in the assessment of dating rituals helps us explore the extent to which relationship activities are given similar importance across institutional and cultural lines.
Most of the studies that inform our knowledge of dating and relationships are unable to draw conclusions regarding racial differences because the sample is Caucasian e. Additionally, a failure to examine both gender and race prevents assessment of whether gendered beliefs are shared across groups. Unlike their White counterparts, an elaborate dating system did not develop for African-Americans during this time period. Most opposite sex relations occurred in large mixed-age settings.
In fact, while Whites were dating in their youth, many urban African Americans were getting married Modell, An impressive body of research indicates a marked change in dating patterns among both racial groups since that time.
However, the literature also suggests that dating patterns for African-Americans were strongly affected by segregation and desegregation, with the former preventing and the latter facilitating greater similarity to Whites Dickinson, Historically, heterosexual dating has taken two primary forms: Traditional dating is more gendered and very formal—the male initiates the date while the female waits to be called.
Some of the activities that might occur on such a date include dressing up to go out to dinner, going to the movies or theater, and giving or receiving gifts. This pattern has been criticized for perpetuating the double standard for women, the sexual exploitation of women, and the economic exploitation of men Bailey, Getting together, on the other hand, is less overtly tied to exploitive gender roles.
It involves more informal practices such as meeting with a group of friends to listen to music, play sports, or hang out. If a specific couple finds that they are attracted to each other, they may form a pair. These group activities can serve as a screening device for people who are attracted to each other but wish to get better acquainted before deciding whether to continue or terminate the relationship Coleman, Thus, forming within the context of getting together is casual dating.
These relationships are characterized by less commitment as well as less frequent encounters than more serious relationships e. Sherwin and Corbett This may include a one-night stand, casual sex, or friendships that include a sexual component. This behavior is especially prevalent on college campuses where the reality of delayed marriage corresponds with independent living arrangements Bogle, Hook-ups, however, are but one ritual that may or may not signify to an individual that they are on a path to a serious relationship.
We view our study as an extension of research on the culture of courtship among college students and include among those rituals, sexual intimacy. This study takes a broad approach to dating rituals, focusing on activities that have been identified within the domains of both traditional dating and getting together. Instead of asking what constitutes a dating event, or what to look for in a dating partner, we pose a more introspective question regarding the significance people assign to particular activities.
The meaning of rituals taps into relationship dynamics and how relationship interactions may be judged as becoming more serious. We consider rituals included in the dating literature, such as sexual intimacy, gifting, and family interactions, as potential markers of relationship seriousness. In the next section we elaborate on these particular rituals since they have received the most attention by social scientists. Sexual intimacy may be viewed as a marker of relationship seriousness.
In certain eras, premarital intercourse was condoned only if the couple was engaged. In general, the literature on social scripts suggests that men and women take different attitudes toward sex in the dating context Alksnis at al. The study of gift exchange originates in early anthropological research by Malinowski and Levi-Strauss who argued that exchanging gifts aids in the development and continuity of society and culture.
This perspective later inspired a more social psychological approach. For example, Gouldner made a distinction between the norm of reciprocity in gift exchange i. Not surprisingly, the study of gift-giving was dominated by the social exchange paradigm with some scholars viewing this activity as instrumental exchange gift-giving accompanied by an expectation of reciprocity. Studies view gift giving among couples as both reciprocal and altruistic exchange.
In this study, we inquire about gift giving, receiving gifts, and the relative costs of gifts given whether they are affordable or expensive. Gift exchange may continue to follow the traditional pattern where men attach more significance to purchasing gifts and women place greater importance on receiving gifts.
Another potential dating ritual is meeting the family. With changes in the historical context in which courtship occurred, came the removal of parental oversight Bailey, ; Bogle, Yet an important predictor of happiness among African Americans is closeness to family rather than to friends Ellison, Our study inquires about the importance of actually being introduced to and introducing the family.
In sum, we treat rituals as systems of established symbolic actions that stand apart from everyday actions. When individuals enact rituals, they create meaningful and recognizable social bonds, as well as perpetuate social norms, maintain the existence of the rituals themselves, and create the possibility for certain future interactions or relationships to occur Etzioni, We believe that knowledge concerning dating rituals, therefore, can further inform the study of courtship by illuminating the personal meaning people assign to these behavioral symbols.
Through dating rituals, relationships may become labeled as serious, potentially leading to committed partnership or marriage Coleman, Thus, we believe this study is relevant for building on the body of research in the area of interpersonal relationships. We address the following questions: We sampled students at two public universities, one whose student populations were predominantly White and the other, predominantly African American. The third was a private, predominantly White institution.
A list of classes being offered during that semester was compiled and ten classes across disciplines and colleges were randomly selected from the list for each institution. Instructors from the class were contacted and asked if the investigator could use a class hour to distribute the survey. Participation in the study was voluntary, and the initial sample consisted of females and males.
Respondents were given the opportunity to write-in a racial designation not indicated on the list of options noted above. As a result, it is likely that the responses represent a mixture of cultural ideals and actual experiences. Neither were respondents prompted to think about homosexual or heterosexual relationships in response to this question.
We, therefore, are unable to examine dating rituals across groups that may have differing sexual orientations. Other sociodemographic characteristics have been shown to impact a variety of relationship attitudes and behavior.
The age of the respondent is coded in years. While the data do not include a detailed relationship history, respondents were given an extensive life events index.
They were asked to indicate whether they had experienced a particular event over the course of their college careers. To assess social class, we rely on two indicators. Parental education takes on the value of 0 for no college degree and 1 for a college degree.
We further include controls for family structure and closeness to parents. The first measures whether or not the respondent grew up with two parents. The second measure assesses number of siblings where students were asked to indicate their total number of siblings. To evaluate closeness with parents, respondents were asked to indicate how close they feel to their parents. Table 1 displays basic descriptive statistics for the independent variables and the controls See appendix 1 for the distribution of the social class and religiosity variables by race.