social isolation in america


As mentioned in an earlier post, my buddy from grad school Matt Brashears has an article appearing in the latest issue of the American Sociological Review (coauthored with Miller McPherson and Lynn Smith-Lovin), “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades.” The article details changes in individuals’ discussion networks from 1985 to 2004. Here’s the abstract:

Have the core discussion networks of Americans changed in the past two decades? In 1985, the General Social Survey (GSS) collected the first nationally representative data on the confidants with whom Americans discuss important matters. In the 2004 GSS the authors replicated those questions to assess social change in core network structures.Discussion networks are smaller in 2004 than in 1985. The number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled. The mean network size decreases by about a third (one confidant), from 2.94 in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. The modal respondent now reports having no confidant; the modal respondent in 1985 had three confidants. Both kin and non-kin confidants were lost in the past two decades, but the greater decrease of non-kin ties leads to more confidant networks centered on spouses and parents, with fewer contacts through voluntary associations andneighborhoods. Most people have densely interconnected confidants similar to them. Some changes reflect the changing demographics of the U.S. population. Educational heterogeneity of social ties has decreased, racial heterogeneity has increased. The data may overestimate the number of social isolates, but these shrinking networks reflect an important social change in America.

That is one of the most depressing abstracts I’ve ever read. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy about Americans doesn’t it?

This article is an important contribution to our understanding of inter-personal networks and should grab lots of attention. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this article cited in a few popular press outlets. It’s already been picked up by the local news (“Is Friendship Dying Off Across America?”). Get ready for the speaker circuit, Matt, and congratulations on a fine publication!

UPDATE: NPR talked with Lynn about the study. You can find the interview here. She discusses some of the more subtle findings in the study (such as regional differences) and gives some additional commentary.

Written by brayden king

June 23, 2006 at 6:26 pm

Posted in brayden, sociology

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Friendship may be on the decline, but the usage of the word “friend” seems to have been multiplying like bunnies in the spring. Because now “friend” is anyone that we know (including our enemies), we need new terms for somebody that is more than an acquaintance. That’s how we meet such awkward constructions such as “my personal friend” (is there an impersonal friend?) and “one of my very best friends” and even “my bestest friend”. I’m anxious to hear what the sociolinguists have to say about it.



    June 23, 2006 at 7:02 pm

  2. Very true. My kids seem to have multiple “bestest friends.”



    June 23, 2006 at 7:05 pm

  3. Who is this Brashears guy? Can he be trusted?



    June 24, 2006 at 3:16 pm

  4. The term “bestest friends” seems to fit quite well with the German saying “Feind – Todfeind – Parteifreund” (translated literally it means: Enemy, Death-Enemy, buddy within your political party) … or other organization.



    June 26, 2006 at 9:51 pm

  5. […] * The article on “Social isolation” was much discussed in the U.S. media (see Dick Meyer from CBS). Kieran Healy and by Brayden King from orgtheory drew my attention to it – thank you!! […]


  6. this essay is actually 23 pages long. I know this because i had to read it last year for a socratic seminar on social isolation in my advanced english class. If you really want to know some interesting fact, google Social Isolation in America- it’s the first link. But, be careful, it’s kind of depressing and shocking.



    January 4, 2008 at 11:53 am

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: