Global Health

Friendships: Less is now more

A group of three friends talking

There has been a significant drop in the number of close friends US adults have since 1990. Image: Unsplash/priscilladupreez

Martin Armstrong
Data Journalist, Statista
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  • People in the US have far fewer close friends than 30 years ago, according to the Survey Center on American Life.
  • Just 13% of US adults say they have 10 or more close friends, compared with 33% of those surveyed in 1990.
  • COVID-19 is one potential reason for this change, as are increased geographic mobility and people marrying later in life, the researchers say.

Back in 1990, Gallup asked adults in the United States how many close friends they had. One-third said that their number was ten or more. Fast forward to 2021, and a survey by Survey Center on American Life reveals a major shift in the number of significant friendships Americans have: Just 13 percent said they have friends in the double digits.

There is of course an argument for quality over quantity, and perhaps the latest survey, conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, is also a sign of how our social lives got paired down during that period. More troubling is perhaps the change at the other end of the scale, where the share of people saying they have no close friends at all went from just 3 percent in 1990, to 12 percent in 2021. As this infographic illustrates, there was also a large increase in the share saying they have a tighter knit group of 1 to 4 close friends.

On top of the Covid factor apparently present in the results, the source posits three other potential reasons for the changes: "First, Americans are marrying later than ever and are more geographically mobile than in the past—two trends that are strongly associated with increasing rates of self-reported social isolation and feelings of loneliness. Second, American parents are spending twice as much time with their children compared to previous generations, crowding out other types of relationships, including friendships. Finally, Americans are working longer hours and traveling more for work, which may come at the cost of maintaining and developing friendships".

Self-reported number of close friend had by U.S. adults in 1990 and 2021
Self-reported number of close friend had by U.S. adults in 1990 and 2021 Image: Survey Center on American Life
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Related topics:
Global HealthBehavioural SciencesCOVID-19
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