from today’s newspaper (I’ve said this before)

We have fewer friends to lean on, study says 25% in U.S. say they have no real confidants. Americans, who shocked pollsters in 1985 when they said they had only three close friends, today say they have just two.

It found that men and women of every race, age and education level reported fewer intimate friends than the same survey turned up in 1985. Their remaining confidants were more likely to be members of their nuclear family than in 1985 but intimacy within families was down, too.

Study co-author Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociologist at Duke University in Durham, called the sharp declines startling.

“You don’t usually expect major features of social life to change very much from year to year or even decade to decade,” she said. The findings are reported in the June issue of the American Sociological Review.

Weakening bonds of friendship, which other studies affirm, have far-reaching effects. Among them:

• Fewer people to turn to for help in crises (i.e.natural disasters).

• Fewer watchdogs to deter neighborhood crime.

• Fewer visitors for hospital patients.

• Fewer participants in community groups.

The decline puts added pressure on spouses, families and counselors.

“People are isolated in their own families,” said Laurie Thorner, a therapist in Annapolis, Md., since the 1980s. “I definitely agree that there’s less support for people.”

One explanation for friendship’s decline is that adults are working longer hours and socializing less. That includes women, who when they were homemakers tended to have strong community networks. In addition, commutes are longer, and TV viewing and computer use are up.

As connections to neighbors and social clubs decline, Smith-Lovin said, “From a social point of view it means you’ve got more people isolated in a small network of people who are just like them.”

She speculated that social isolation may have made Hurricane Katrina worse. “The people we saw sitting on roofs after Katrina hit were probably people without close ties to someone with a car to get them out,” she said.

She’s right, said Bob Howard, spokesman for the American Red Cross’ Hurricane Relief Project.

“People that had friends and family were probably most likely to evacuate,” he said.

Robert Putnam, the author of “Bowling Alone,” the 2000 best-seller on declining American civic life, said his research generally tracked the findings of Smith-Lovin and Miller McPherson, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

People pay a price when bonds of friendship weaken, Putnam said. “Communities that have tighter social networks have lower crime and lower mortality and less corruption and more effective government and less tax evasion” he said.

The Duke-Arizona research team’s findings are based on questions that they added to one of the nation’s classic attitude polls, the General Social Survey, which the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center has conducted every two years since 1972.


About Marcus

Who me? Introverted, neurotic, self-absorbed, increasingly cynical observer of human nature and part time social critic in hiding. Most of my life spent avoiding growing up. The naive idealistic passions of youth have evolved into the eclectic eccentricities of adulthood. Northeast Florida small-town native, related to people I can't relate to. Simultaneously my own best friend and worst enemy. Politically and spiritually unaffiliated, my personal ideologies put me all over the map or off it completely.
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6 Responses to from today’s newspaper (I’ve said this before)

  1. mary919 says:

    I think the issue may be clouded a little bit because it sounds like they’re not counting co-workers and online friends. Previous generations may have disregarded such “friendships” but society has changed in ways other than just the one the study is measuring.
    Back in the day my mother’s friends were all the mothers of my friends– now my friends are all my co-workers. I don’t find that surprising.
    And I also think this– if a natural disaster had hit back in the swinging ’60s, my parents would have had lots of community support on the cul-de-sac, but if it had sent them to another city or another state, the only support they’d have had would have been family. And many people still have no family out of town.
    But I’d have other options. It would be a serious test of those options 🙂 🙂 🙂 but the options do exist. Within my group of online “friends” there have been individuals who have tested those options with great results.

    • marcsuttle says:

      I didn’t include the entire article but it talked about online “friends”. (as well as many people complaining all they do is work, work, work and don’t have time for friends) An example of not being able to call on someone you know only on-line (and many miles away) to help out with any immediate need was cited. (e.g. Mary, my car is in the shop and I really need to get a refill prescription from CVS, could you drop by and carry me there or swing by and bring it to me?) My nearest co-worker is 130 miles away in Burlington. A frustration I think I’ve written about before is my absolute failure to engage any of my coworkers (before I started working virtual) in anything that might lead to us becoming friends. I think all this was the point of the article; the structure of society and therefore friendships have changed. It concerns me to think that I am more intimate “friends” online than I do in real life.

      • mary919 says:

        I tried to write about this awhile ago (did a lousy job) but I do think the intimacy part is very true. People who know me online know more about my hopes and dreams, my thoughts and fears– my daily focus even– than do my “real life” friends.
        Life is really out of control. The last time I sat around and just shot the shit with anyone in real life (like we do online) was talking to other mothers when Emma had a play date. Now if I meet with friends– and even family– we always schedule an activity and have time constraints. I honestly think people feel guilty just sitting and talking.

  2. joebanks says:

    I think this article right. Actually i thought it was just me – that’s half a joke, half serious. Changing work rolls and the fact that there are no permanent jobs anymore; all contribute.
    What else could explain the explosion of formats like lj except that we aren’t connecting in real life.

  3. castlelady says:

    I agree with this article. Society and people….as well as their habits and the way they are around others….have changed drastically. It’s not the way it once was when I was a kid, and my mother (who didn’t work) had her friends (who also didn’t work) over for coffee and gossip. They actually had time to sit around all afternoon and chat. Nowadays people are on the go, in a rush, and they’re often overdoing it with activities both for themselves and for their family members. They don’t make time anymore.
    Due to society changing so much, there are also the ones of us who don’t want to associate with many people as we did maybe 10 years ago.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I look at what the arms race has wrought in squirt guns and it just ain’t right. My son has this one WMD that comes with a tube that he freezes and then slides inside his water tank making the water super cold. I tell him no one wants to get shot with that.
    I remember the debates about what was a better weapon; the tiny Wee-gee that shot several feet farther then any other gun, or the Luger which had some distance but also had a decent size water capacity. Whatever none of them held more then a couple onces of water. There is a meanness to today’s weaponry.

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