Americans’ Circle of Confidantes Has Shrunk to Two People

Released: 11/3/2011 12:30 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
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Citations Social Networks

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. — Although the average Facebook user has some 130 "friends," in reality, Americans have, on average, slightly more than two confidantes, down from three 25 years ago, but the size of this social network has stabilized since 2004, finds a new Cornell University study.

Although this shrinking social network "makes us potentially more vulnerable," said Matthew Brashears, assistant professor of sociology, the good news is that "we're not as socially isolated as scholars had feared."

Brashears' study, “Small networks and high isolation? A reexamination of American discussion networks,” will be published in an upcoming print edition of the journal Social Networks (currently online at http://bit.ly/tgQPnw).

The findings confirm Brashears' 2006 paper with Miller McPherson and Lynn Smith-Lovin of Duke University, which reported that between 1985 and 2004, the average size of the group with whom we discuss important matters had shrunk by about one-third (from about three people to two).

In this latest study, Brashears used new data from a nationally representative experiment. He found that "modern discussion networks have decreased in size, which is consistent with other researchers' findings, but that social isolation has not become more prevalent," said Brashears.

The level of social isolation, he said, is so variable from survey to survey that it is not possible at this point to make generalizations about its true level, although it is possible to measure the overall size of our discussion networks.

The study was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

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