Study Shows Americans are Leading More Isolated, Lonelier Lives
June 25, 2006 Author: Armando Duke
......."The percentage of people who talk only to family members about important matters increased from about 57 percent to about 80 percent, while the number of people who depend totally on their spouse has increased from about 5 percent to about 9 percent"
AXcess News) Houston, TX - A recent study by sociologists at Duke University shows that Americans are growing lonelier and live more isolated lives.
Lynn Smith-Lovin professor of sociology at Duke University said, "Americans have fewer confidants, and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be."
Dr. Smith-Lovin said the news is bad for American society as a whole. "This change indicates something that's not good for our society," Smith-Lovin said. "Ties with a close network of people create a safety net. These ties also lead to civic engagement and local political action."
Smith-Lovin's research compared studies from 1985 and 2004. On average, each person in 2004 reported 2.08 close friends Â— those they felt they could discuss important matters with. That's down from 2.94 people in 1985.
People who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent.
The survey found that both family and non-family confidants dropped, with the loss greatest in non-family connections.
The study paints a picture of Americans' social contacts as a "densely connected, close, homogeneous set of ties slowly closing in on itself, becoming smaller, more tightly interconnected, more focused on the very strong bonds of the nuclear family."
That means fewer contacts created through clubs, neighbors and organizations outside the home -- a phenomenon popularly known as "bowling alone," from the 2000 book of the same title by Robert D. Putnam.
The researchers speculated that changes in communities and families, such as the increase in the number of hours that family members spend at work and the influence of Internet communication, may contribute to the decrease in the size of close-knit circles of friends and relatives.
The study also finds that:
-- The trend toward social isolation mirrors other class divides. Non-whites and people with less education tend to have smaller networks than white Americans and those with higher educational levels.
-- Racial diversity among people's networks has increased. The percentage of people who count at least one person of another race in their close network has gone up from about 9 percent to more than 15 percent.
-- The percentage of people who talk only to family members about important matters increased from about 57 percent to about 80 percent, while the number of people who depend totally on their spouse has increased from about 5 percent to about 9 percent.
In addition to Smith-Lovin, the study was conducted by Miller McPherson, a research professor of sociology at Duke and professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, and Matthew E. Brashears, a graduate student at the University of Arizona.
The dramatic drop in the number of people in these discussion networks was not anticipated by the researchers, who have plans to follow up with more surveys in the future.
"We were surprised to see such a large change. We remain cautious - perhaps even skeptical - of its size. It's unusual to see very large social changes like this that aren't tied to some type of demographic shift in the population," McPherson said. "But even if the change is exaggerated for some reason, given our analyses of the highest quality, nationally representative data available, we are confident there is a trend toward smaller, closer social networks more centered on spouses and partners."
The findings are published in the June 2006 issue of the journal American Sociological Review.