A Rite of Teen Passage Has Gone Into Decline

Teen boy arrives at teen girl’s house to pick her up for a date. It’s a vignette we still see in many commercials, but it’s playing out less often in real life. Compared to a decade ago, 10th- and 12th-graders are more likely to say they never date and less likely to say they often date, according to a report from the Child Trends DataBank. Analyzing data collected by the Monitoring the Future project at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, the report says the shift “is more pronounced for 12th-grade students, where the percentage who did not date at all rose from 14 percent in 1991 to 22 percent in 2001.” Over the same period, the number who date “frequently” (i.e., one or more times per week) fell from 34 percent to 29 percent. The never-dating proportion of 10th-graders rose from 28 percent to 33 percent, while the frequent-dating cohort slid from 17 percent to 15 percent. There’s a negligible gender gap in the percentages of boys and girls who never date. Among those who date often, though, there’s a noticeable variation. In the 10th grade, 13.1 percent of boys and 16.4 percent of girls classify themselves as frequent daters. In the 12th grade, 26.8 percent of boys and 31.3 percent of girls do so. The report says frequent daters have “slightly higher levels of self-esteem” than other teens. On the other hand, the frequent daters also have an above-average incidence of depression.