Fewer Americans have close friends than ever before, but here's one small thing we can do to make the world a little better.
Every now and then, you come across a statistic that stops you in your tracks and haunts you for days. That’s what happened when I read about the drastic drop over the past few decades in the number of close friendships Americans have.
In 1990, only 3% of Americans had no close friends. Today, that number has soared up to 12%:
Many Americans do not have a large number of close friends. Close to half (49 percent) of Americans report having three or fewer. More than one-third (36 percent) of Americans report having several close friends—between four and nine. Thirteen percent of Americans say they have 10 or more close friends, which is roughly the same proportion of the public that has no close friends (12 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.
There is something so concerning about such a decline in friendship. Community and social cooperation are absolutely essential to human survival, not to mention to psychological and emotional health. It’s hard to think of anything more basic and beneficial to human society than friendship.
On top of that, friendship has a spiritual impact too. Jesus himself described his relationship with his followers as a friendship. The Bible frequently mentions the importance of friendship, both with God and with other people.
It’s clear that friendship is necessary for Christian life and human flourishing. And it simply makes us happy.
This research finding has to make us wonder what on earth is going on that so many people don’t have any close friends. Even worse, why is this isolation growing so rapidly?
It’s easy to point a finger at a number of possible causes: increased geographic mobility; increased workplace and childcare demands; and the universal scapegoat, the internet, which makes it so easy for people to stay isolated at home instead of going out to engage with the world around them. Of course, the pandemic didn’t help matters at all either.
But to uncover the reasons for this societal shift, we have to think about our own role as well. Many of us may have contributed in small ways to the increasing social fragmentation and isolation of our world.
Do we make the effort to reach out if we haven’t heard from a friend in a while? Have we made plans to get together with friends lately, even though life is busy and it never seems like there’s a perfect time? Are we striving to practice the virtue of hospitality?
Let’s face this problem of social isolation head-on. Before the summer ends, make and keep this one resolution: Reach out to a friend (or several!) and make plans to get together face to face.
Summer is the perfect time to plan a get-together, because it’s easy to meet outdoors, which greatly reduces any risk of spreading germs. It’s also a time of year when people tend to have more free time on their calendars, with young people being on summer vacation from school.
It might seem a little intimidating to plan a get-together, but it helps to remember that most other people want to get invited and make friends too. This research shows that many people are in need of friends; why can’t we be the ones to reach out and make that connection? It might take a little extra effort and pull us out of our comfort zones, but the enjoyable results will be worth the work.