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The state of American friendship: Change, challenges, and loss

Survey Center on American Life: “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 COVID-19 pandemic is the most obvious culprit in the national friendship decline, but broader structural forces may be playing a more important role. 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. In fact, perhaps reflecting its central place in the hierarchy of American social life, Americans are now more likely to make friends at work than any other way—including at school, in their neighborhood, at their place of worship, or even through existing friends. But the news is not universally negative. The survey paints a more complex and perhaps more fluid picture of American friendships. Roughly half of Americans report having lost touch with at least one friend during the pandemic. But, surprisingly, nearly as many Americans report having made a new friend over this same period. Many Americans report having activity friendships or situational friends—people they see at certain times or places—and most Americans have a best friend, even if it’s fewer than in the past…”

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