New Survey Offers Insight Into College Students’ Gender, Sexual Orientation and Religion


(ANALYSIS) I know people will be surprised to hear this, but it’s rare for me to get my hands on some new data. I basically use two or three surveys for everything you see on this Substack and my social media. But last week was a very good one because I got data that is a bit different but very interesting.

It comes from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which is an organization that fights for the ability of individuals (students and faculty) to be able to freely exercise their First Amendment right to free speech. If someone on a college campus is punished for nothing more than their speech, FIRE often steps in and sues the university. You can read several examples of this on its Wikipedia page.

One of the major research projects that FIRE undertakes is an annual survey of college students to gauge how they think about the issue of free speech and if they feel like they have to stifle their speech because of hostility on campus. It’s a real treasure trove of data about how the next generation thinks about all kinds of topics. The full report (which runs to 85 pages) is here.

The survey that FIRE collected contains a total sample size of 55,102 respondents who had to be currently enrolled at an institution of higher learning in the United States. A thorough description of the methodology used is here and here.

I am making one adjustment to this data — I restricted my sample to just those who are between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. While I do think the views of 40-year-old graduate students are important, I wanted to just focus on college aged folks for this bit of data analysis. That means my sample is a bit smaller — 39,178. That’s still more than enough to analyze, though.

I am going to write a series of posts with this data, especially topics related to free speech and allowing speakers on campus that generate controversy, but I gleaned so much from just the demographic variables that I had to write about them specifically.

The theme here is simply three variables: sexual orientation, gender identity and religion among college aged folks.

What really kicked this off was a report from Brown University that indicated that 38% of its student body identifies as homosexual, bisexual, queer, asexual, pansexual, questioning or other. When that same poll was conducted 10 years earlier, that share was just 14%. Is Brown an outlier here? Or are huge percentages of college students not straight and/or not cisgender?

The survey gave seven total options for gender. The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that the vast, vast majority of young people identify as man or woman. In fact, this was the choice of 98.2% of all respondents in the survey. In other words, about 1 in 50 college aged students identifies as nonbinary, genderqueer/genderfluid, agender, unsure or prefer not to say.

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