There are countless surveys and statistics to be found on the impact of COVID-19, in terms of cases, deaths, and vaccinations. Many have tackled broader, multifaceted topics such as the work-from-home shift or e-commerce rates, and some have released valuable information on the state of romantic relationships, living situations, and dating. Americans have obviously noticed a measurable change in the way we live, and when a survey shows the glaring statistics, it seems to provide many with a dark sense of comfort. This is the case for a 2021 survey from the Survey Center of American Life that is making its rounds again online for its poignant reading of the state of friendships in America.
The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey is a unique statistical look not only at how life has changed since COVID-19, but also at how life has changed since the 20th century. The survey’s findings were posted online along with comparisons to similar questions from a survey from 1990. The combined results show that Americans now report having fewer close friendships than they did previously, talking to friends less often, and relying less on their friends for emotional support.
The pandemic is an obvious factor in this shift; almost half of the participants (47%) reported losing touch with some friends between May 2020 and May 2021. Young women ages 18 to 29 were the group with the highest percentage (59%) of those that reported losing touch with at least a few friends during this time period. Inversely, though, almost half of the participants (46%) reported making a new friend during this time.
While the pandemic is an obvious factor in recent social shifts, there’s much to be said about the changes that have occurred in the past two decades, and how those have also impacted the survey’s findings on friendships. The Survey Center of American Life suggests that friendship changes are influenced by “broader structural forces,” like family life and work habits. For example, the survey found that Americans are working longer hours and traveling more for work, which could lead to struggles in maintaining friendships.
The survey also found that Americans are making friends at work (54%) more than any other place. Following work, 47% of participants are making close friends at school and 40% are making them through existing friendships. Finding close friends in neighborhoods (35%), places of worship (21%), or clubs or organizations (19%) are less common. And surprisingly in the digital age, only 8% of participants reported making a close friend online.
Over the past few decades, the number of friends people have reported to have is starkly different. In 1990, 33% of participants reported having 10 or more close friends, while less than one-third (27%) of participants reported having three or fewer. In 2021, only 13% said they had 10 or more close friends, and 37% said they had three or less. Also in 2021, 12% reported having no close friends, a 9% increase from the 1990 survey. Similarly, fewer Americans report having a best friend in 2021 than in 1990, but a majority of Americans do say they have a best friend.
A reason for this change in closeness could be due to the fact that Americans reported having several types of friendships. Most participants (69%) responded that they have friends they see in specific places. These places include work, the gym, the park, school, or a coffee shop. Closely behind that, 67% have known their friends since childhood. Similarly to place-related friends, 51% say they have activity-based friendships, friends they only see during activities like sports, hobbies, or community events.
The survey’s findings have provided many online with a sense of comfort. On Reddit, many have shared their personal experiences with finding and maintaining friendships over the past year, the past few years, and the past few decades. Some share their struggles with loneliness and sadness, like one user who says, “I don't really have [a close friend] either. Hate the fact that more people are going through the same.” Others share that while the amount of friends they have has changed, they provide perspectives on how their types of friendships have just simply shifted. Several more comment on how they don’t know how to make friends at their age or in their current position, and other Reddit users have replied with similar struggles or solutions to help.
Overall, this survey provides an unusual perspective of the emotional state of America—one backed by numbers and percentages. It proves that the pandemic has changed our lives in more ways than work and e-commerce. As well, it shows a pretty dramatic shift in life in the last two decades. While the numbers are somewhat negative in appearance, it has also been a catalyst for conversation, leading to people talking and connecting in open and honest ways.
Scroll down to see more interesting findings from the May 2021 American Perspectives Survey from the Survey Center of American Life.
The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey is a unique statistical look at how friendships have changed since COVID-19.
The survey shows that the number of close friendships people have has declined greatly since a similar survey was done in 1990.
Although the number of friends have declined, a majority of Americans do say they have a best friend.
Americans have several kinds of friendships. A majority of respondents said they have activity or situation-based friends.
The survey also found that political differences do have an influence on the friendships.
It also found that the more friends people have, the more satisfied they are with the amount of friends they have.
Americans are less likely to turn to friends for personal support, and more likely to talk to their spouse or partner.
Women are more likely to turn to friends for emotional support than men.
The survey’s findings have provided people online with a sense of comfort. On Reddit, many have shared their personal experiences with finding and maintaining friendships. Some have even started new ones from this.