What Is a Friendship Recession and Why Are We Currently In One?

On average, Americans are spending less time with their friends and more time alone

The U.S. economy may have high rates of inflation, but when it comes to friendship, Americans are in a recession.

In fact, Americans are spending more time by themselves than ever before. While the phenomenon of solitude is especially pronounced for men, this friendship recession affects Americans across every demographic.

Although all this alone time may be an introvert’s dream—and there are certainly benefits to spending time alone, hello solo travel—it is imperative for human beings to maintain relationships. Between half and two-thirds of the American population are ambiverts, meaning that most people possess traits of introverts and extroverts.

So while there is no shortage of pros to alone time, a friendship recession leaves many wanting more.

What is a friendship recession?

According to a 2021 survey done by the Survey Center on American Life, a friendship recession describes an uptick in the average time spent alone, the number of friends one has and overall time devoted to friendship. The survey found that since 1990, the number of men with at least six close friends decreased from 55% to 27%. Similarly, for men who identified as having zero close friends, the numbers jumped from 3% to 15%.

The numbers happen to be particularly dismal for men. Nonetheless, the friendship recession affects everyone.

Derek Thompson, host of The Ringer podcast “Plain English,” found that the friendship recession, “seems to be true for every age group, for every gender, for every income level, for people in metro and non-metro areas, for white and nonwhite, living with a spouse or partner, not living with a spouse or partner. Everyone seems to be spending more time alone.”

Essentially, “over the past three decades,” the Survey Center on American Life study found that, “the number of close friends Americans have has plummeted.”

Why are we in a friendship recession?

There is a combination of factors that have contributed to the friendship recession.

According to economist Bryce Ward, a mixture of higher use of technology, a decrease in group activities and the impact of COVID-19 are all partially to blame. “We’re exercising more alone… we’re shopping more alone… time in rotary clubs and bowling leagues and all that stuff… had all fallen. Time with neighbors had fallen,” Ward explains.

What is the impact of social isolation?

Experts have found that social isolation can lead to negative impacts on physical and emotional health. According to Vox, “research shows that social isolation can weaken the immune system and make someone more likely to suffer from ailments” including Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, inflammation, sleep disruptions, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

How can we combat it?

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to combat the friendship recession.

One place to begin is to foster new and old connections you’ve already established. Reaching out to friends is simple and has been found to have positive effects on the person reaching out and the person on the receiving end.

Additionally, experts emphasize the importance of putting yourself out there.

“Friendships don’t just happen. In fact, the belief that they happen organically can hinder our chances of making friends,” writes Dr. Marisa Franco, a former professor at Georgia State University, on friendship. That’s why joining groups or clubs, proactivity and vulnerability are crucial to fostering connections and fighting the friendship recession.

“In being intentional about our relationships now,” Dr. Franco continues, “we are curating our future lives. If we envision a world for ourselves where we are thriving with connection, surrounded by people we love and who love us, then we have to start building that world now.”

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Jessica Kaplan
Jessica Kaplan is the Assistant Editor of Trends, where she writes lifestyle articles for Readers Digest, Taste of Home, and Family Handyman. When she’s not writing, you can find her listening to a podcast.