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Brief Published: 29 Jul 2021

Tracking the Decline of American Men’s Close Friendships

In 2021, only 27% of US men say they have at least six close friends, down from 55% in 1990

Covid-era isolation has impacted friendships (see Relationships Rebooted: Part Two), but US men were already experiencing a decline in their close social groups. We highlight the top takeaways from the Survey Centre of American Life’s (SCAL) recent study on platonic relationships.

  • Two Decades of Friendship Deterioration: While the survey covers many aspects of adult American friendships, analysis from SCAL shows that men’s relationships are seeing a long-term decline. In 1990, 55% of US men reported they had at least six close friends; in 2021, that proportion has fallen to just 27%. 
  • A Shoulder to Cry On: Friendships are particularly important in times of need, as we’ve experienced during the financial and emotional impact of Covid-19. However, in 2021, only 22% of young men would turn to their friends first in times of need, down from 45% in 1990. Instead, 36% say their parents are their first point of call when they need assistance – perhaps owing to the number of young men still living at home (see Early Adulthood Decoded for more).
  • Isolation Era: The proportion who claim they have no close friends has also grown. In 1990, only 3% said this was true compared to 15% this year, rising to 20% among contemporary single men. And the pandemic hasn’t helped – 43% of 18- to 29-year-old men and 37% aged 30-49 report they’ve lost touch with a few friends over the last 12 months.
    However, it’s not all doom and gloom; 54% of young men say they have made a new friend in the past 12 months – perhaps finding virtual connection during the pandemic. 

For more on modern male identity, see What Men Want and Enlightened Masculinity. See Relationships Rebooted parts One and Two to understand relationships in the Covid era.