Joining a sorority or fraternity sounds promising to many college students: There are friends to be made, opportunities to be gained, and fun to be had. But although the organizations originated as spaces for students to form meaningful communities and explore topics beyond the ones discussed in the classroom, many believe that the groups in colleges today — known as Greek life organizations — have drifted away from their initial mission. In particular, hazing — a process through which students are initiated into the groups — can involve risk, pain, or harm, and has sometimes been deadly, with some reports suggesting at least one hazing-related death occurred every year from 1969 to 2021. In a recent survey, YouGov asked Americans about their experiences with college Greek life and their thoughts on hazing rituals.
Despite extensive media coverage on Greek life hazing, not that many Americans report being members of Greek life in college: only 7% of Americans who have completed some college say they were part of a sorority and another 7% say they were part of a fraternity. Of Americans who were part of a fraternity or sorority, 10% say they personally experienced severe hazing, and 43% say they experienced minor hazing.
However, Greek life groups affect many more people than just their members. One in four Americans (25%) say they have attended a party hosted by a college fraternity, including 23% of Americans who say they were not part of Greek life in college. A smaller share of Americans (18%) say they have attended a party hosted by a college sorority, including 12% who say they were not part of Greek life in college. Men are more likely than women to say they have attended a party hosted by a fraternity (31% vs. 20%).
Half of Americans (50%) say they think hazing in fraternities is a big problem, 26% say it is a small problem, and only 7% say it is not a problem. A smaller share of Americans (41%) say hazing is a big problem in sororities than say it is a big problem in fraternities.
Opinions on hazing seem to depend on one’s own Greek life membership in college: those who were part of fraternities or sororities in college are less likely than those who were not to say that hazing is a big problem in fraternities (39% to 57%), and less likely to say that hazing is a big problem in sororities (24% by 42%).
Two particularly instructive characteristics when it comes to looking at attitudes to hazing is whether someone has ever been a parent — and, if so, whether they are currently a parent to a child younger than the typical age of college students. Before we look at attitudes among these groups of parents, it’s helpful to look at the definitions, which are subtle. Respondents were first asked if they have ever been parents or guardians to any child, and if they answered “yes,” whether they are currently parents of at least one child under 18 years of age. With these responses, we can estimate the opinion of three categories of parents or guardians (from here we'll use parents to describe both groups): people who are currently parents of at least one child under 18 (and could also be parents to one or more children 18 and over), those who at some point have been parents of children under 18 but are not currently, and those who have never been parents.
Like the definitions, the differences in opinions of the parental groups are subtle. Their view of the problem of hazing is not far off from that of Americans overall. Most Americans (55%) who are parents of only children 18 and over — and may have parented children who have attended college — say that hazing in fraternities is a big problem, and nearly half (46%) say the same about hazing in sororities. Americans who are parents of at least one child under the age of 18 are not quite as concerned, with 44% saying hazing is a big problem in fraternities and 41% saying the same about hazing in sororities. Americans overall sit in between, at 50% and 41%.
Two in five Americans say that fraternities and sororities caught hazing members should be permanently suspended from campus, and a similar share (38%) say they should be suspended, but only temporarily. Women are more likely than men (48% to 30%) to say that the groups should be permanently suspended if caught hazing their members. Parents of children 18 and over — a group that includes parents of college-age children — are more likely to say sororities and fraternities should be permanently suspended than are parents of children under the age of 18 and Americans who were never parents.
— Taylor Orth, Carl Bialik, and Linley Sanders contributed to this article
This poll was conducted on August 16 - 19, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.