The Hard Facts: We Have Fewer Friends. What Else Is New?

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

“[A new survey of] more than 2,000 adults from a national database and found that from 1985 to 2010, the number of truly close friends people cited has dropped — even though we’re socializing as much as ever. On average, participants listed 2.03 close friends in [the] survey. That number was down from about three in a 1985 study. ” (“More Facebook Friends, Fewer Real One” ; Yahoo! News; 11/7/2011″

In response to the question of how many people would you discuss “important matters with,” Cornell sociologist Matthew Brashears reports that “forty-eight percent of participants listed one close friend when asked, 18 percent listed two and 29 percent listed more. A little more than 4 percent didn’t list anyone.”

As far as I can tell, this particular finding isn’t that different from the 2006 report “Social Isolation in America,” which found that the number of friends people claim to feel close to dropped from three to two. People are just responding differently now because Facebook wasn’t the mammoth that it was back then. We didn’t have an average number of Facebook friends (130) to directly compare it to.

According to the report, what distinguishes these findings from the 2006 study is Brashears’ claim that while “modern discussion networks have decreased in size, which is consistent with other researchers’ findings… social isolation has not become more prevalent.” We have fewer super-close friends, but we’re not more lonely. So that’s good news.

Brashears says his study isn’t the next sign of the anti-social apocalypse. Yes, it seems that all researchers are always looking for another way to prove that America is becoming ruder, less social, more private, and so on. But Brashears told the Daily Mail that his study isn’t a cause for concern or a sign that we are more vulnerable than ever. People “are simply becoming more adept at deciding who they can trust to be a close confidant.”

Becoming a more discerning friend might be a good thing. Might. But you don’t want to get to that place where you’re so careful of who you trust that you suddenly don’t trust anyone. Slippery slope people. Slippery slope.

How many friends do you have that you can talk to about “important matters”? Do you find that you are becoming more careful of who you talk to about the important stuff?

{And thanks to Lauren for sending me this study on Twitter! If you ever come across interesting friend research, I’d be delighted if you’d share!}

6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Hard Facts: We Have Fewer Friends. What Else Is New?

  1. Christine

    I only have 2 close friends..and one of those is a recent new friend and we are still in the development stages of our bonding.
    I sometimes get a little sad or maybe a feeling of longing when I see women with large groups of friends or even reruns of Friends, wishing I had that.

  2. Robin

    I have my sister and two other friends, but one friend is a 4-hour plane ride away and the other is starting a new business so we don’t hang out as much as we used to. Times have changed! With Facebook, sometimes I find it disconcerting, because my friends list is filled with people I was close to at different times of my life but now seem too busy to actually talk…it’s all comments and “likes.” I felt much less isolated before I was so “connected” to everyone…and that’s not just because of social media but also getting older and circumstances changing.

  3. Lesley

    I have 7 I COULD talk to but I honestly think a couple think I’m crazy depending on the topic. I know I’m extremely lucky to have these people who care about me but it’s hard because every single one of them except one has young kids and…I don’t… so my window of opportunity to call or talk to them directly is extremely limited. I do get fairly sad on my long commute home when I start to think about who I can call and talk with and then I realize it’s dinner/bath/ or bed time and I can’t or I give it a shot and only get three minutes in before a screaming child interrupts. I know they feel bad too so I just stop calling. Wow that sounds sad. I agree with Robin. Except I felt much less isolated when I didn’t know how much fun everybody else was having thanks to FB!

  4. Anna

    I would say that I have two close friends that I can go to with almost anything, and neither one live in the same city (or time zone) as me. I used to have a lot more, but then I went through a couple of really hard years (laid off, extended unemployment, and then taking a job that is not generally supported by people who tend to affiliate with the same political party that I do), and rapidly learned that there are very few people that will stick by you during those times. The whole experience made me very, very picky about who I trust and let into my life now.

  5. Guest

    I’m one of those 4%. And not only do I not have anyone for “important matters”, I don’t have anyone at all. No parents, no family, no friends, never had a girlfriend. It’s been like this for years and years.

    And I’m 28.

    Whatever people you have in your life right now, cherish them. Tell them that you love them. Because I’d give my left arm to have what you have.

  6. Pingback: No Shortcuts to Friendship – - NotEnoughGood.comNotEnoughGood.com

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