3 : I Made A Friend!
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3 : I Made A Friend!
Coming out of a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, Americans appear more attuned than ever to the importance of friendship. However, despite renewed interest in the topic of friendship in popular culture and the news media, signs suggest that the role of friends in American social life is experiencing a pronounced decline. The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey finds that Americans report having fewer close friendships than they once did, talking to their friends less often, and relying less on their friends for personal support.
The financial devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has been well-documented, but less widely reported is the emotional toll many Americans faced as a result of quarantine requirements and self-imposed social isolation. Nearly half (47 percent) of Americans report having lost touch with at least a few friends over the past 12 months. Nearly one in 10 (9 percent) Americans report having lost touch with most of their friends.
Young women appear to have been more affected than most were. Nearly six in 10 (59 percent) report having lost touch with at least a few friends, and 16 percent say they are no longer in regular contact with most of their friends.
Despite prolonged periods of social isolation and quarantine that characterized much of American life over the past year, nearly half (46 percent) of Americans report having made a new friend within the past 12 months. Nearly one-third (30 percent) of the public say they have made a new friend in the past one to four years. Notably, 22 percent of Americans say it has been at least five years since they last made a new friend.
Overall, more than half (53 percent) of Americans say that the first person they talk to when they have a personal problem is their spouse or partner. Sixteen percent of the public say they go to a friend first when confronting a personal issue, and 10 percent say they rely on their parents. Roughly the same amount (9 percent) say they turn to a sibling or other family member. Five percent of Americans say they first reach out to their children when dealing with a personal issue.
Fewer Americans appear to be relying on friends for personal support than they have in the past. A survey conducted by Gallup in 1990 found that more than one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans said their friend was the first person they would turn to when they had a personal problem.
With the average age of first marriages rising steadily and fewer Americans turning to friends for support, parents have stepped in to fill the gap. Young men are now more likely to rely on their parents for personal support than other people in their life. Thirty-six percent of young men say their parents are the first people they reach out to when facing a personal problem. Roughly one in four (24 percent) young women say their parents are their first call.
The number of young men relying on their parents for personal support has more than doubled over the past several decades. In 1990, only 17 percent of young men and an identical number of young women reported that their parents were the first people they talked to when confronting a personal problem. Close to half (45 percent) of young men said they turned to their friends first.
There is an even larger gender gap between unmarried men and women. Nearly four in 10 (39 percent) single unmarried women say they usually talk to a friend when facing a personal problem, compared to 30 percent of unmarried men. Again, unmarried men are significantly more likely than women are to say they rely on their parents for help when dealing with a personal issue (39 percent vs. 26 percent).
The number of close friendships Americans have appears to have declined considerably over the past several decades. In 1990, less than one-third (27 percent) said they had three or fewer close friends, while about as many (33 percent) reported having 10 or more close friends. Only 3 percent said they did not have any close friends.
Many Americans are not overly satisfied about the size of their friendship group. About half of Americans (51 percent) report they are very satisfied or completely satisfied with the number of friends they have. Thirty percent say they are only somewhat satisfied, and 17 percent say they are not too or not at all satisfied with the number of friends they have.
Women are slightly more likely than men are to report being satisfied with their number of friends. A majority (54 percent) of women say they are completely or very satisfied, compared to less than half of men (48 percent).
There are notable racial and ethnic differences in feelings of satisfaction about the number of friends Americans have. Black and Hispanic Americans express greater feelings of satisfaction than White Americans do. Close to six in 10 Black (58 percent) and Hispanic (56 percent) Americans report they are very or completely satisfied with how many friends they have. About half (49 percent) of White Americans say the same.
Not surprisingly, Americans who have more friends report higher levels of satisfaction with the number of friends they have. In fact, levels of satisfaction move linearly: As Americans accumulate additional friends, their level of satisfaction grows. Among Americans without any close friends, only 29 percent report being completely or very satisfied with their number of friends. Less than four in 10 (39 percent) Americans with only one close friend and 43 percent of those with two or three close friends report being completely or very satisfied. A majority (56 percent) of Americans with four or five friends say they are completely or very satisfied. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans with between six and nine friends are completely or very satisfied, and three-quarters (75 percent) of those with 10 or more close friends express this level of satisfaction.
Friends come in many shapes and sizes. Some friends Americans see infrequently or maybe only in certain places. Other friends may have been close confidants since childhood. Most Americans report having several different types of friendships.
Childhood friendships are ubiquitous among the public. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say they have a friend whom they have known since childhood. Yet despite the prevalence of these types of friendships, they have become less common as Americans age. More than three-quarters (76 percent) of young adults have a childhood friend, compared to 60 percent of seniors.
Childhood friendships are particularly prevalent among Black Americans. Nearly eight in 10 (78 percent) Black Americans report having a friend whom they have known since childhood. These types of friendships are significantly less common among White (66 percent) and Hispanic Americans (64 percent).
Having a friend of a different gender is fairly common in American society, but the incidence varies. Fifty-eight percent of Americans who have a close friend report having a close friend of the opposite gender. Interestingly, men are more likely than women are to report having a close friend of a different gender (63 percent vs. 53 percent).
There are stark generational differences in the mode of communication Americans prefer to use to get in touch with their friends. More than six in 10 (61 percent) young adults say they have texted a friend within the past 24 hours, compared to only 41 percent of seniors. Conversely, older Americans are far more likely to have sent an email to a friend. Nearly three in 10 (29 percent) seniors say they emailed a friend within the past 24 hours, compared to 10 percent of young adults. There are no significant generational differences in the frequency with which Americans talk to their friends on the phone.
There are massive differences in the degree to which men and women rely on friends for emotional support and are willing to share their personal feelings. Nearly half of women (48 percent) and less than one-third of men (30 percent) say they have had a private conversation with a friend during which they shared their personal feelings in the past week.
Men are also far less likely than women are to have received emotional support from a friend. Four in 10 (41 percent) women report having received emotional support from a friend within the past week, compared to 21 percent of men.
Finally, compared to men, women more regularly tell their friends they love them. About half (49 percent) of women say they have told a friend they loved them within the past week. Only one-quarter (25 percent) of men say they have done this.
There are no generational differences, meaning younger men are no more likely than older men are to have shared their personal feelings with a friend. However, men who have female friends are significantly more likely to express their feelings and receive emotional support than are those without. Twenty-eight percent of men with female friends report that they received emotional support from a friend within the past week, compared to 16 percent of men who do not have female friends. Compared to men who have only male friends, men with female friends are also more likely to have shared personal feelings (38 percent vs. 25 percent) and to have told a friend they loved them (35 percent vs. 15 percent) in the past week.
Most Americans report having a best friend. Nearly six in 10 (59 percent) Americans say they have one person they consider their best friend. Forty percent say they do not. Notably, these types of friendships are common, and their prevalence hardly varies at all among the public. Across the lines of race and ethnicity, age, religion, and politics, best friends are a common feature of American social life.
For most Americans, best friends include people beyond their immediate or extended family. About only one in five (21 percent) Americans say their best friend is a family member, while the vast majority (78 percent) say they are not. Among those who say their best friend is a family member, they are most frequently identified as their spouse or partner. 59ce067264