Where have all the good friends gone?

June 02, 2023, 5:49 PM GMT+0

Plenty of ink has been spilled over American friendships. Has social media given each of us 100 close friends, or are more and more of us simply Bowling Alone? Recent YouGov polling uncovered data about friendship, including number of friends by political party, education, and income. YouGov asked 39,951 Americans about their difficulties making friends, their level of introversion (and extroversion), and, plainly, just how many close friends they really have.

The majority (55%) of Americans have between two and five close friends. Another 13% have just one close friend, and just as many have between six and 10. Meanwhile, 8% have no close friends at all, and 5% have more than 10. These numbers are similar regardless of political party or gender, but there are big differences by education and income levels.

Americans with a high school degree or less have the highest rate of having few close friends, with 29% having either zero or one close friend, and just 12% having six or more. Among Americans with higher education levels, a lower share have few friends, and more have many friends. Indeed, only 4% of Americans with postgraduate degrees have no close friends, 9% have one, and 25% have six or more. These trends may point to the accuracy of the sentiment that friends are best made in college. The environment surrounding college may act as a “third place” for students to meet new people and forge close bonds.

The analysis on income levels shows a similar pattern. Americans with the lowest incomes — less than 75% of the median income — have the fewest friends, with 12% having none, 17% having just one, and just 13% having six or more. Americans with the highest incomes — more than 200% of the median income — have comparatively more friends. Just 4% have no close friends, 8% have one, and 26% have six or more.

Younger people report feeling difficulty in forming close ties with others. In 2019, YouGov described Millennials as “the loneliest generation.” The latest survey seems to back this up. One-quarter (25%) of U.S. adults between 20 and 24 say that they have either one or no close friends, and 13% report having six or more. Moving up in age from there in five-year ranges, it is not until the segment of adults between ages 66 and 70 that adults are less likely to have zero or one close friends (18%) than to have six or more (21%). As adults get older, they often meet new people and forge new connections. And even after they lose touch with a close friend, they may not stop counting them as a close friend.

Warning, reader: Unexpected results lie ahead. No surprise that most business majors say they find it easy to make friends (58% say it is very or somewhat easy, compared to 38% who say it is very or somewhat hard): That’s half of the job. But it comes as a shock that accounting majors top the list, almost twice as likely to find it easy to make friends than to find it hard (64% to 33%). Or that the often caricatured as antisocial computer science majors would find friend-making as easy as they seemingly do (55% to 39%). And it might seem strange that social science (47% to 48%) and liberal arts (47% to 47%) majors would be at the bottom, split so evenly on the difficulty of making friends. Making friends seems to be easier in the server room than in the stacks: Who’da thunk.

Despite any international stereotypes about Americans as extroverts, the data shows Americans to be a mostly introverted people — or at least that most U.S. adults believe themselves to be introverted. About six in 10 U.S. adults (59%) consider themselves to be very or somewhat introverted. Only 30% consider themselves very or somewhat extroverted. (That's consistent with other recent YouGov polling.) On how easy or hard Americans find it to make friends, they show an interesting breakdown. The easier Americans find it to make friends, the more likely they are to be extroverted, and the less likely they are to be introverted. More surprisingly, even people who find it very easy to make friends are more likely to be introverted (50%) than extroverted (40%).

Methodology: This Daily Questions survey was conducted online on May 11 - 12, 2023 among 39,951 U.S. adults. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, U.S. census region, and political party.

See the results of this poll:

Image: Adobe Stock (Volodymyr)

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