The Prevalence of Social Isolation
A study looking at social isolation in 1985 and 2008 shows Americans have become more isolated.
The General Social Survey was a nation-wide survey that looked at the number of close confidants and friends Americans have, among other sociological matters.
Surveyed volunteers in 2004 were much more likely to have no close friends outside of their family. In 1985, 36% of Americans had no close friends outside of their family. In 2004, more than half, 53%, reported no close friends outside of family.
Americans on average have about 1/3rd fewer close friends than they did in the 1980s. The average number of close confidants, as defined by individuals with whom we discuss important issues with, has also declined from 2.94 to 2.08.
Limitations of Self Reported Data
Social Network Diversity: Race & Education
Our friend group composition has also changed over time. We've become more likely to have at least one friend of a different race than ourselves. Only 8.9% of Americans had a close friend of a different race 1985 compared to 15% in 2004.
However, we're less likely to have diversity in education backgrounds within our friend groups. In 1985, 27% of Americans had multiple close friends with different education backgrounds compared to only 20% in 2004.
Social Isolation vs Education
Education attainment has become far more important in our odds of social isolation as well. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to be socially isolated.
Americans across all levels of education had lower odds of social isolation in the 1980s.
In the 2000s, social isolation rose for all. However, it rose a lot more for those with less education according to a statistical model generated from the survey data.
This study, while on the older side, highlights a potentially concerning trend. If you feel that people today have fewer friends than before, these data suggest that you're not wrong and not alone in that feeling.
Keep in mind that none of this is set in stone. We all have a choice to go out, take some risks, and make new friends.
This also suggests a great opportunity for making an impact. If you see someone who looks lonely and who may need a friend, you might be right. If you feel comfortable with it, a quick complement or chat may be enough to really brighten someone's day.