35 Years Later, Harvard Class of 1975 Remains Optimistic

If this year’s senior class is anything like the class of 1975, in 35 years, over 80 percent of seniors will vote for a Democrat for president, more than 95 percent will characterize their lives as a success, and more than nine out of 10 will be happy in their relationship.

But over half will wish they could make a major life decision again, more than three-quarters will have gained weight, and around one-fifth of the class will have had an affair.

These statistics, found in a 100-question survey conducted this year of Harvard and Radcliffe students who graduated in 1975, portray a class whose members—despite some significant regrets—are largely satisfied with the current state of their lives and are optimistic about the future.

The survey garnered 240 responses ranging from the carefree to the poignant.

“I had fun along the way,” one alumnus responded when asked why he views his life as an “overall success.”

But when alumni were asked to reveal the main personal issue they confront today, they divulged more serious answers.

“I need to become brave enough to leave my husband,” wrote one alumna. Another asked, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”

Many of the questions were about sex, and the responses they provoked reveal a difference between the genders. The number of men who characterize sex as very important outnumber women by about 15 percent, and 14.9 percent of men have had over 30 sexual partners, compared to 12.5 percent of women.

On family life, 94.2 percent of men and 85.7 percent of women said they are happy in their current relationship.

This gender differential re-emerges in the proportion of alumni who engaged in extramarital affairs: about 17 percent of men and 24 percent of women.

Mitchell L. Dong ’75 helped organize and conduct the survey and is pushing for more standardization of class surveys. He cautioned against making any strong conclusions based on the survey results.

“The survey is filled out by happy people, not by marginalized people,” he said.

The identities of survey respondents also reveal the composition of a typical Harvard class from 35 years ago: respondents were largely male (73 percent), largely white (87 percent), and largely heterosexual (97 percent).

Dong and the other survey creators crafted 100 questions about topics ranging from religion and politics, to relationships and life satisfaction.

To those sampled, the technology boom in the 1990s was the most important event of the past 35 years, closely followed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The group was generally liberal: over 80 percent voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Not one respondent was a female Republican.

About 50 percent of alumni said that they either do not believe in God or do not know, although over 90 percent said spirituality was a force for good.

Beyond their compunctions and concerns, the alumni who responded were often hopeful about the state of their lives and their futures. Over 65 percent said that the happiest time of their lives was now or yet to come.

—Staff writer Danielle J. Kolin can be reached at dkolin@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Naveen N. Srivatsa can be reached at srivatsa@fas.harvard.edu.

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