Students and Budgeting c1915

As we stare down the last month of summer vacation, many families are preparing to send their children off to college.   It is inevitable that calls, tweets, texts with the general message “I NEED MORE MONEY” will come back home.  This is one of the (in)dependent rites of passage.

In 1914 Smith College studied the spending habits of its undergraduates.  Prompted by the representation in the popular press of college girls devoting a ‘…large part of her time and money to amusing herself…’  Dean of the College, Ada Comstock and Associate professor of economics & sociology,  F. Stuart Chapin led a study that included 1200 students on campus.  These students keep a diary like the one here:

Student expenditures book, 1915

Cover of Expense Account book

Students listed the various expenditures on a daily basis, handing in the sheets monthly to house Presidents who would send them to the Dean of College office, until the entire book was completed.  By the end of the study in 1915, enthusiasm for supplying figures slowed and only 421 students completed the entire booklet.  When the numbers were crunched, the average Smith student spent her budget in this manner87.4% on necessities; 8.2% for pleasure (including dues and contributions to church and charity); and 4.2% on books and stationary. (SAQ February 1916, pg82)   The average expenditure was $765.55.

Ada Comstock was very pleased with the findings.  Chapin presented them in an article for the American Statistical Association in 1916.  More importantly, the popular press was notified of the findings, as evidence in these articles from around the country:

Newspaper articles announcing student budget findings

Undergraduate Budget article by Ada L. Comstock

What would the figures be like if Smith undertook such a study today?

For further information about the project, visit the Smith College Archives!


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