Increased use of the Internet, along with the number of hours people are spending at work, are factors contributing to a drastic decline in the number of close friends that Americans have.
The number of people who say they have no one to talk to about important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona. The average number of people who respondents said they discuss important matters fell from about three to two. The more insular population is increasingly reliant on family members as confidants, the researchers say.
"This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a professor of sociology at Duke.
New technology links people over greater distances, but cuts into face-to-face meeting time, the researchers said.
The study, which compares data from 1985 and 2004, was published earlier this month in the American Sociological Review. The data derives from the long-running General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago since 1972. Roughly 1,500 people were surveyed.
Researchers said that one reason that the survey might have turned up such a shift in social networks is that many respondents might have interpreted the questions differently in 2004 than they did in 1985. People might not consider e-mailing or instant messaging "discussing," for instance.