When young, many; when older, good: the need for friends changes with age

Who have a friend, have a treasure.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
31 March 2023 Friday 22:13
51 Reads
When young, many; when older, good: the need for friends changes with age

Who have a friend, have a treasure. Whoever has many friends will have a greater treasure? It seems that this is the case, at least for the youngest. A study with almost 30,000 participants has found a positive relationship between having many close friends and greater life satisfaction, especially in those under 35.

"The main conclusion is that close friendships have a more positive impact on well-being among younger people compared to those who are middle-aged or older," says study author Weixi Kang, a researcher at Imperial College London ( England). The article is published this week in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Vital satisfaction refers to the subjective evaluation that a person makes of his own life and would become part of the well-being, also subjective, of a subject. Such an estimate varies throughout life, although there is no consensus on how it does so. Thus, according to some research, this describes an inverted U, while in other publications satisfaction would increase over the years until it stabilized.

There are many factors that affect life satisfaction and friends are key. For example, a study conducted by Washington University in St. Louis (USA) found that being isolated from friends resulted in more distress for individuals than being isolated from family.

On the other hand, people become increasingly aware of how to spend their time as they age. This awareness leads them to opt for those events that will make them as happy as possible. And among these events is spending quality time with loved ones.

With this in mind, Kang hypothesized that the number of close friends should be strongly related to life satisfaction in young people, with the number receding into the background with advancing age. The results have proved him right.

To carry out the study, the author included a sample of 29,785 people between the ages of 16 and 101, which he divided into young (under 35), middle-aged (between 35 and 55) and older (55 and over). The data came from the Understanding Society Longitudinal Study of Home Life in the United Kingdom and developed by the University of Essex (England).

The number of close friends was measured with the question “How many close friends do you have?” and life satisfaction with the question "How dissatisfied or satisfied are you with your life in general?", which had to be scored between one and seven, according to the least or greatest satisfaction.

Life satisfaction, in addition to varying with age and being able to be mediated by the number of close friends, is influenced by numerous other factors. Sex, salary or educational level would be some of them. The significant interaction between age and number of close friends with respect to life satisfaction was observed after controlling for the effect of these and many other demographic variables.

In turn, the data collected in this regard by Kang are consistent with previous findings where it is shown that women and/or married and/or with high incomes report higher levels of satisfaction with life.

For the author, the conclusion of the study has consequences for the design of interventions to improve people's well-being. Actions may require different approaches depending on whether they are young or old.

“Everyone can benefit from having lots of friends, but young people the most,” Kang says. Thus, the most prosocial interventions, which help to increase social networks and build close connections in a positive way, would be more suitable for this population group. Instead, the elderly may resist increasing their social networks and prefer, for example, learning how to use technology to connect with the people who matter most to them.