Is It Social Pressure? Almost 40% of Students are LGBT at Brown University

According to a 2023 poll, Brown University has found that 38 percent of their students do not identify as heterosexual. This is five times the national rate and a statistic that has doubled over the past decade, forcing individuals to question whether the responses were totally genuine.

During Pride Month in 2023, Brown University’s online newspaper The Brown Daily Herald, conducted a poll for their students. The poll enquired about sexual orientation, and the response established surprising patterns.

“Since Fall 2010,” the newspaper reports, “students identifying as other sexual orientations within the LGBTQ+ community have increased by 793 percent.”

The increase has pushed forward the question of why the younger generation is identifying with being LGBT when other generations have been less enthused in the past.

Generational Differences

A study by Ipsos discovered that 18 percent of Gen Z identified as part of the LGBT community, in contrast to millennials, who only reached 10 percent. The report surveyed over 22,000 people across 30 countries.

The sharp increase for the younger generation is raising interest, with some implying that perhaps it isn’t as straightforward as we might think.

The Ipsos report does not question the numbers. “Generational differences are particularly pronounced when it comes to knowing people who are bisexual and non-binary/gender non-conforming or fluid,” the report acknowledges. “In both cases, Gen Zers are twice as likely as Gen Xers, and three times as likely as Boomers, to say they do.”

The study does look at the younger generation for the prominence of LGBT members; however, it claims that the prevalence is “consistent with self-identification,” indicating that Gen Z is simply more accepting and more fluid than those before them.

Acceptance or Peer Pressure?

 The Washington Examiner has a likely assumption about the statistics. “The popular explanation for this is acceptance. Because society has become more accepting of the community, more people are comfortable coming out as their true selves.”

However, critics disagree. In March 2023, an article emerged on Springer Link, written by the head of an academic journal and a Northwestern University professor. The article was titled “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” and detailed a theory that identification as LGBT within younger communities was simply a social contagion brought on by peer pressure. The article was redacted three months after publishing due to immense online criticism. 

The term “Gender Dysphoria” was popularised by Dr. Lisa Littman, who interestingly taught at Brown University before being removed over the controversy. 

Dr. Littman’s study was that some girls who identified as transgender were doing it simply because of peer pressure from their social circles. “On the one hand,” her report states of the conversation around transgender identification, “an increase in visibility has given a voice to individuals who would have been under-diagnosed and undertreated in the past. On the other hand, it is plausible that online content may encourage vulnerable individuals to believe that nonspecific symptoms and vague feelings should be interpreted as gender dysphoria stemming from a transgender condition.” 

Dr. Littman’s theory was, in a nutshell, that individuals were identifying as LGBT when they were, in fact, not.

Identity or Behavior?

Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Political Science at the University of London, said of the current data that it was likely that LGBT is simply “trendy among some youth.”

His reasoning came alongside statistics of what he calls LGBT behavior. “LGBT behavior is up four points among young people since 2008,” he said. “But LGBT identity is up 11 points.”

He goes on to say, “If this was about people feeling able to come out, then we should have seen these two trends rise together. What we find instead is that identity is rising much faster than behavior, indicating that people with occasional rather than sustained feelings of attraction to the opposite sex are increasingly identifying as LGBT.”

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It’s a touchy subject among many, though the research is unwavering. Dr. Littman provides the example of peer-pressured eating disorders within her research, outlining how friends can encourage each other in bad habits, developing medical issues alongside one another, with equal support.

The Washington Examiner also references smoking, noting how the American Lung Association says that higher rates of smoking may be due to marketing, pressure from friends or even seeing parents smoke. These so-called ‘peer relationships’ can also be linked to alcohol abuse and drug use.

When speaking to News in Health, Dr. Emily Falk of the University of Pennsylvania said, “People care about what others think across all different age groups – and that influences how much they value different ideas and behaviors.” 

The study of peer behavior and its influences is not a new one, but paired with the surprisingly high numbers at Brown University, and many are showing interest.

The Washington Examiner said bluntly, “Social pressure is encouraging at least some people to identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender, and the Brown University survey is further evidence of that theory.”

This article was produced by TPR Teaching.


Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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