The Hard Facts: American Friendship

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Among the many reasons Americans are lucky is that they tend to have people they can depend on. That is one of the takeaways from a recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which in part looked at social relationships and trust around the developed world. The United States is in the middle of the pack of the countries surveyed, with 92.3 percent of Americans saying they have a support network. Compare this to a country like India, where only 59.3 percent of people say they have a network they can depend on in times of need.” (“Lean on Me: Trust and Friendship Around the World”; New York Times, 10/14/2011)

I’ve always been interested in how friendship in America compares with other countries. I’ve never lived anywhere but the U.S. of A., but the sense I’ve gotten from those who’ve spent more time abroad than I have is that mine is a very American quest. In other countries, people may not move around as often as we do, and they don’t stray as far from home.

I’m fascinated by this graph, which ranks the percent of citizens who have support networks by country. 92.3 percent is pretty great, though it only lands Americans in the middle. What, I wonder, puts so many countries ahead of us? What do the French have that we don’t (aside from legit croissants)? Or the Swedes? Is it our crazy work obsessed culture? Or our intense emphasis on being strong and independent, rather than celebrating dependence on our support networks? Clearly, I’m going to need to do some studying up.

Oh, here’s another tidbit that surprised me from this article: “Perhaps partly because they generally have good support networks, Americans are slightly more trusting than residents of other countries; 36.6 percent of Americans agreed that ‘most people can be trusted,’ compared with 33 percent across the developed world.”

I’ve always thought that Americans are, well, not all that trusting. Though, if only 36 percent of us think people can be trusted, that doesn’t really make us trusting. It just makes us less un-trusting than everyone else, right? I mean, apparently 63.4 percent of us think we can’t trust people. (Yes, I said “un-trusting.” Whatever.)

What do you think of this graph? Why do you think the U.S only falls in the middle of support network percentages? And why are we more trusting than the rest of the developed world?


Filed under The Search

4 responses to “The Hard Facts: American Friendship

  1. anonymous

    Not to be cynical, but I’d say we’re more trusting than the developed world because we’re a bit more naive than the rest of the world: we’re ‘newer’ as a country, haven’t experienced nearly as many wars on our own soil, can, for the most part, throw money at a problem and make it go away (thus making us more sheltered), and generally less educated about things happening outside of the US than residents of other developed countries. Also, I don’t think our emphasis on individualism is what ranks us lower than other developed nations – India, from what I understand, is way more family/community-oriented than we are, and yet, rank lower on the ‘people-to-turn-to” scale – though I don’t know what does.

  2. san

    I can only speak from the experience of a foreigner in the US and I personally find it hard to make really deep, honest friendships. I’ve lived here for 10 years now and -besides the fact that I might have problems making friends because of the post-college problems – I find Americans to be very open and friendly at first, but then a lot of the time there is no intention to nurture a relationship any further.

    In Europe, my general understanding is that people are more straight-forward. You’ll instantly know if someone is not interested in getting to know you better, but at the same time, you can count on somebody calling you if they say they will. (Don’t know if that is relevant for your overall question why the US falls in the middle of the support network percentage…. just an observation.)

    • Megan

      As an American, I find it hard to make honest, deep friendships, too. I’ve heard this saying about Seattleites, but I actually think it’s true about all Americans: “we’re good at being friendly, not so much at being friends.”

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