Americans Getting Lonelier

April 13, 2007 at 12:45 am 18 comments

In 1985, the General Social Survey reported that Americans had an average of 2.94 close friends (confidants is the term researchers like to use). A recent survey from 2004 found that the number of confidants has dropped to 2.08. In other words, Americans have lost on average one friend with whom they discuss important matters. The relationships with the greatest drop in confidants were neighbors and group/club members. We are less than half as likely to have them as close friends now than in 1985. It’s really unfortunate because everyone could use more friends. The paper suggests that the nature of our social network has changed. Instead of a few strong ties, we have more weak ties.

Americans are less likely to have friends with a different education level, but more likely to have friends of a different race. Furthermore, educated Americans have larger and more diverse networks. That says something about the friends you make during your college years — I find my closest friends are from internships and college.

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M. E. (2006). Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades. American Sociological Review, 71, 353-375. [PDF]


Entry filed under: Familiar Stranger, Friends, Relationships, Sociology.

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18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. janet  |  April 13, 2007 at 12:57 am

    i would try to befriend my neighbor, but hearing them having sex through the paper thin walls makes it awkward. the internet is my only close friend now… down from my one friend who moved away

  • 2. lizama  |  April 14, 2007 at 12:56 am

    So if you have 2.08 close confidents, and assuming one of them is your significant other, you really only have one close friend. Maybe it’s because of all the social networks we have online now and it’s easy to have 1000 friends on Facebook and yet only see like 10 of them on a day-to-day basis.

  • 3. Lola  |  April 17, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    One study found that heavy internet users spent 27% less time talking to friends and family over the phone. I definitely relate to this. Never a big phone fan, the ease and “on my time” aspect of IM or email make me less likely to place phone calls. It’s ironic that the more “connected” we become globally, the more isolated we become in our own communities. I have seen social skills weaken across many age groups and scenes, but I’ve also seen the other side: friendships forged online becoming very real and very bonded upon first RL (real life) meeting.

  • 4. Bo  |  April 22, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Agree with Lola – interesting that given how used we are to the “on my time” communications, I have to schedule time to catch up with friends over the phone. A whole string of “when are you free?” and “how’s Wednesday afternoon?” type emails have to be exchanged before we can be sure to have set aside a proper amount of time for a proper conversation.

  • 5. torchwolf  |  May 21, 2007 at 12:23 am

    If this is right, it’s pretty staggering.

    Though newly published research studies need to be taken with a lot of pinches of salt. And the study itself rightly has a section called: “Could such a large social change be real?”

    Most staggering is the statement that the modal value is now zero, down from three in 1985. A lot of people have no-one they talk to about issues that are important to them.

  • 6. mimi  |  July 28, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    I’m not surprised by this. We work more, spend more time in activities like watching tv, the internet, catching up on sleep.

    But during my years of tending bar a long while back, I noticed people becoming more and more self-centered, more gossipy, more unrealistic in their expectations of relationships and less willing – and this is important – to listen. The ‘talk show’ era ushered in a very talky ‘me oriented’ society. Add to that, tabloid fueled celebrity gossip in a society where anyone can be famous if only for being famous as well as our overall expectation of our ’15 minutes’ of FAME.

    Of course, we’re getting lonelier. Who can you trust? Confide in? Self-absorbtion is epidemic and a whole lot of people are sexually disfunctional. (Unrealistic expectations spawned by a pervasive media deifying impossible beauty standards through fake means. And let’s not forget our love affair with junk food, bad dietary habits and overall loathing for any kind of physical activity.

    Did I fail to mention the epidemic of obsessive disorders which have created an unnatural reliance on drug therapy when perhaps an holistic approach to life might do the trick? Or maybe just listening to someone else for a change rather than your own mind.

    I count myself as being lucky to still have many long-standing solid relationships with people I can trust. But I attribute that to this fact: I’m a good listener and I don’t gossip. I also steer clear of totally self-absorbed people. I’m also a good cook and people tend not to bite the hand that might feed them.

    We’ve made life a lot more complicated than it is.

  • 7. elissc  |  July 28, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    thank you mimi – that brought a tear to my eye.

  • 8. olga  |  August 18, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I have never left any kind of a blog message before but somehow came upon Mimi’s message and stopped at the words on how it may be a good idea to listen to other’s minds for a change from our own. We would all only benefit from relaxing our minds a bit and just listening, for a change. It is alarming that this may be a one difficult thing to do for us today because of the constant and controlling, “always must do” attitude of the mind. And although possible but rare, simply not thinking for just a full minute seems imposible to do for most of us. The value of being able to use our minds and not just thinking that we are in control is priceless.
    Thanks mimi.

  • 9. Ashley  |  November 7, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Well we have a lot more technology today and so people spend more time at home being on the internet sometimes talking to people they don’t really know. Also we have a lot more to do that we can do by ourselves. I agree with different education level as well, sometimes if someone goes to college and their friend doesn’t their perspectives can change of that friend and what not.

  • 10. Sammie  |  November 12, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    I think that people may be getting lonelier just for the fact you can’t really trust people these days and more drama is going on. Gossip is also a big deal leading to friendships being broken. I also believe that when you are friends with someone who goes to college things might change if they get in with the wrong crowd. People are changing because of new technology. We are more worried about being on the internet then keeping the friendships we use to have.

  • 11. Dekoracje Okien  |  June 9, 2009 at 8:36 am

    I think it’s not only americans. I belive that the fact that now we can get everything done in front of our computer means a lot less contact with other people. And that’s what causes peaple to feel lonely.

  • 12. NCFM  |  September 15, 2012 at 2:02 am

    I agree with Lola………

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