More Americans now have fewer close friends compared to three decades ago, but men have faced the brunt of that social shift, with five times as many now reporting they have no close friends at all, a recent study by the Survey Center on American Life shows.
The study, conducted between May 14-23, involved interviews with a random national sample of 2,019 adults living in the U.S., and shows that only 59% of Americans, in general, report having a best friend today compared to 77% in 1990. And while 30 years ago 55% of men said they have at least six close friends, just 27% of men now report the same. Some 15% now say they have no close friends at all compared to 3% in 1990.
Daniel A. Cox, senior fellow in polling and public opinion and director of the Survey Center on American Life, said while women have also experienced a decline in friendships, only 10% reported having no close friends.
He explained that the decline in close friendships was especially concerning for young adults and singles who traditionally rely on their friends for emotional and personal support. With the shifting trend, the data show that young men are increasingly turning to their parents for support as their friends network shrinks.
Some 45% of young men reported turning to friends for support when facing personal problems in 1990 compared to 22% who do so today. Some 36% say the first person they call for help is their parents.
Among the forces highlighted as factors behind the shifting trend in friendships are Americans marrying later and being more geographically mobile. Studies also show American parents are spending twice as much time with their children than previous generations and they work longer hours.
The study shows that some 53% of Americans say that the first person they talk to when they have a personal problem is their spouse or partner. For men, according to an earlier report in Harper’s Bazaar, it’s women who bear the burden of men’s lack of friendships.
“Men don’t usually put the effort into maintaining friendships once they’re married,” artist Lindsay Johnson told the publication. “The guys at work are the only people other than me that my husband even talks to, so when some of these men retire, they expect their wives to be their source of entertainment and even get jealous that they have a life.”
Dr. Geoffrey Greif, sociologist and author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships,explained to Healthline that men develop friendships by working or doing things together like watching sports and going to events. But he added, “As we get older and take on more responsibilities at work and home, men typically have less time for these shared activities, which can be isolating.”
Having friends, explained the publication, “is a critical component of a healthy life, for both men and women.”