Durham 70% phenomenon: an accurate myth?


Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, meaning a flood of discussions of relationships is on the way, and of course, the mention of the Durham 70% phenomenon…yay! In 2013, The Independent claimed that over 70% of Durham students marry each other. This is considerably higher than that of other UK universities, where on average 20% of students marry fellow students. The question is, what makes Durham such a marriage hub?

The main reason can be narrowed down to the influence of Durham’s college system. Whether living on campus or in private accommodation, all Durham students are part of a college, supposed to be their ‘university family’ or ‘home away from home.’ The collegiate system provides more of a sheltered environment than other university halls. Rather than being left to their own devices, Durham freshers are encouraged to participate in college events and meet people from college. These types of events immediately foster closer relationships, a bond that remains part of many students’ lives until graduation, and often beyond. These college events include balls: a major element of the Durham social calendar which offer students the opportunity to dress up, make an effort, and have a fun night. With dim lights and alcohol, this ‘organised fun’ setting almost encourages flirtation or, at the very least, the opportunity to make new friends.

With dim lights and alcohol, this ‘organised fun’ setting almost encourages flirtation or, at the very least, the opportunity to make new friends.

The college marriage system relies on the development of these close friendships. At Durham, students extravagantly ‘propose’ to each other, become each other’s ‘wives’ or ‘husbands,’ and when you’re in second year you get your own ‘children,’ after having ‘parents’ yourself. In case you haven’t noticed, this is a very serious thing that cannot be joked about.

Students often embark on ‘marriages’ with each other in the first year, a relationship which continues until graduation, or more if your college husband or wife is ‘the one’… Extravagant proposals are often used for these marriages, and with the amount of time spent together trying to make your ‘college children’ content, it is no surprise that these ‘relationships’ can turn into more. College marriages are encouraged by Durham University, so it is not exactly a surprise that marriage rates between students at Durham are higher than those at other universities, where ‘relationships’ like this do not exist.

Aside from organised social events, busy co-curricular life is a large element of Durham student experience. Whether students are interested in sport, theatre, journalism or debating, a society will suit them. Here, likeminded people get to meet each other. As it is an organised setting, students are less pressured to develop friendships, as they grow organically when they see each other each week.

The location in which these events take place must add to the romance. Durham is beautiful; with ancient grounds and gorgeous lighting, the city fosters romance. At night, the castle is beautifully lit and looks like something out of a movie. While other universities have modern halls that surround ancient buildings, most of Durham’s colleges are heritage listed, meaning the ancient buildings with modern twists are a beautiful and romantic setting.

The city fosters romance

With coronavirus limiting students meeting new people outside of their household, it is unlikely that romance has blossomed in the same way as previous years. It is more complicated than ever before to meet new people, limiting the number of relationships that can spark during this time.

Why then, are we still talking about the 70% phenomenon? This kind of rhetoric could be seen as damaging for students, as it adds pressure to meet ‘the one’. It is nearly impossible to meet ‘the one for now’ at the moment, let alone someone marriage worthy.

Durham University’s social calendar and influence of the collegiate system allows romance to spark in a way that other university lifestyles cannot comprehend. These events have been limited for the past year, so while the 70% phenomenon may have been accurate nearly a decade ago, the same can almost certainly not be said about the students at university this year and last year.

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