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Are Close Friendships Getting Harder to Find?

Fewer Americans have a non-family member to confide in, survey shows

SATURDAY, July 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Could the truly good friend be a fading phenomenon?

A new study finds more Americans than ever admitting to a decrease in their social circle, with many saying they have no one to tell their troubles to.

The study, conducted by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona, analyzed data from the General Social Survey collected from 1985 to 2004 on relationships among Americans.

"The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants, and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be," study author Lynn Smith-Lovin, a professor of sociology at Duke, said in a prepared statement.

"This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action," Smith-Lovin added.

The results, published in the June issue of American Sociological Review, found that the majority of Americans have an average of about two people to talk to about their problems -- compared to a 1985 average of almost three people. Twenty-five percent of people said that they had no one in whom they could confide.

The data also showed that friendships outside of the family are decreasing more than familial friendships, showing Americans' friendships as "a densely connected, close, homogeneous set of ties slowly closing in on itself, becoming smaller, more tightly interconnected, more focused on the very strong bonds of the nuclear family," the authors noted.

Data also showed that:

  • White and well-educated Americans tend to be the least socially isolated.
  • Fifteen percent of Americans are close friends with at least one person of another race, compared to only 9 percent of Americans in the last survey.
  • About 80 percent of people only talk to family members about problems -- and 9 percent say they only confide in their spouse.

"We were surprised to see such a large change. We remain cautious -- perhaps even skeptical -- of its size. It's unusual to see very large social changes like this that aren't tied to some type of demographic shift in the population," researcher Miller McPherson, a research professor of sociology at Duke and professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, said in a prepared statement.

"But even if the change is exaggerated for some reason, we are confident that there is a trend toward smaller, close social networks more centered on spouses and partners," McPherson said.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more information on friendships.

SOURCES: American Sociological Association, news release, June 23, 2006
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