Isolation Drift

July 12, 2006

I missed this story a couple of weeks ago, but a keynote speaker at a conference I attended today brought it up.

A survey funded by the National Science Foundation was conducted in 1985 and then again in 2004. The results point out a steep decline in American social ties. Any of you who may have read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone a few years back may be aware of the general trend. Still, the survey numbers are a stark reminder.

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them… In 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all.

The percentage of people who confide only in family increased from 57% to 80%, and the number who depend totally on a spouse is up from 5% to 9%, the study found. “If something happens to that spouse or partner, you may have lost your safety net,” Smith-Lovin says.

Since becoming a parent, I’ve had less time and energy to feed my close non-familial friendships. And yet I desire a strong social network in order to counter isolation, enable my son to know other adults, throw fun parties, etc. The push-pull between these forces has resulted in fewer confidants, a heavier reliance on family for closeness, and more casual friendships… the same tale the trend numbers tell.

I’m curious how the quantity and quality of your friendships have changed since becoming a parent. Do tell!