Man dancing on stage at spring break

Your Spring Break Location is Often Determined by
Your Social Location

In this piece, April Schueths challenges the stereotype of spring break debauchery and asks us to consider how our spring break plans reflect the social stratification/inequality in the United States.

“What are you doing for spring break?” We all know the spring break stereotype of unruly beachfront debauchery; watch Jon Stewart break down Fox News’s “Exposing Spring Break” to see the stereotype in action. A stereotype is “a simplified and often negative generalization about a group (i.e., college students) that is often false or exaggerated” (Manza, Arum, and Haney 2013: A–11). Clearly, some students will head to the beach, and some will even engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking, unprotected sex, law violations, etc. Yet, it’s simply not true that all college students will do so.

It turns out that many students spend their time productively, volunteering or visiting family while others will take the time to work or catch up on coursework. It is interesting that students’ perception of what their peers are doing on spring break do not match their own self-reported plans.

Spring Break & Social Stratification

We also have to acknowledge that for many students, spending a crazy week at Daytona beach isn’t something they can afford. Some students have fewer spring break options than others. Low-income and working-class students often have difficulty even paying for the basic costs of higher education (i.e., books, housing, food, etc.) and thus work more than their higher income counterparts. Soria, Weiner, and Lu (2014: 14) point out:

“Low-income and working-class students face continued financial challenges while enrolled in college and are more likely to make decisions based on financial needs, rather than educational ones.” In addition, he majority of college students raising children and caring for family members work full-time while attending school.

The point is that the spring break stereotype is built on top of another stereotype; the false idea that all college students are 18–24 year olds without jobs or kids who have family money and student loans to pay for everything. If you fit that stereotype, then cheers to you, but there are many of your peers who don’t. Research from the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2013 over a third of all full-time students aged 16–24 were employed and for part-time students the percentage jumped to over two-thirds (See chart below).

Percentage of Working College Students

Furthermore, in 2012 41.3% of all students enrolled in post-secondary institutions (2-year or 4-year) were 25 years of age or older. If you read the National Center for Education Statistics entire report on The Condition of Education you can clearly see that college students are a diverse group, that come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have diverse experiences.

Spring break, like almost every other aspect of college, reflects the economic inequality of the United States. What you do during your spring break really depends on your socio-economic status. This doesn’t mean that college students from low-income backgrounds don’t ever go on the stereotypical beach spring break, it’s just much more difficult. So as you take this week away from your studies, think about how your social location affects your spring break location.

Dig Deeper:

  1. How do you normally spend your spring break? How does your social status impact your spring break plans? Explain.
  2. Read this article from the New York Times Magazine on the history of spring break. How did social institutions such as the media influence modern day spring break?
  3. How can students with limited financial resources still travel during spring break? To help answer this question, take a look at this article as well as this one.
  4. Check out these spring break safety tips from the Center for Disease Control. Which safety tips do you think are most important? When we consider the diversity of spring break plans, are there any tips that might be missing? Explain.

Image by Appletkaa1 via Wikimedia Commons