AARP Eye Center
Friendships are often based on common interests and life experiences, which might mean that most of your friends are around the same age (or at least from the same generation). But spending time with friends from different generations can have big benefits.
Learning opportunities and fresh perspectives are just a few of the gains to be had. Thirty-seven percent of adults have at least one intergenerational friendship with someone who is 15 years older (or 15 years younger), according to a 2020 AARP study. Younger adults said they were often inspired by older friends, whom they viewed as role models.
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But older adults are less likely to develop new friendships. A 2021 study by the AEI Survey Center on American Life found that just 41 percent of those over 65 had made a new friend in the past year and almost one-third hadn’t made a new friend in at least five years.
Laura Whitney Sniderman, founder and CEO of the digital friendship app Kinnd, believes intergenerational friendships could be the answer, noting that everyone, regardless of age, seeks companionship and emotional support.
“Intergenerational friendships are special because they offer opportunities for sharing and learning,” she adds. “It is incredibly important for wisdom to be shared across generations as there is so much to be gained from everyone’s unique lived experience.”
The most important elements of a true friendship — common values, mutual respect, vulnerability and deep affection — transcend age.
“Essentially both people in the friendship should feel accepted for who they really are, that they matter to each other and want to contribute to each other’s lives and [are willing to] put energy into maintaining the friendship,” Sniderman adds.
To find friends of different ages, seek out cultural and arts events, community service projects, educational classes and workshops that bring different generations together. The AARP survey found that 26 percent of intergenerational friendships started at work, and almost half of these close bonds lasted at least 10 years. One in five lasted for more than two decades.
We talked to three sets of intergenerational friends who learned that when it comes to connection, age doesn’t matter.
Elizabeth Richardson, 68, and Jessie Lunsford, 32
Not long after Elizabeth Richardson purchased a farm in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, she saw Jessie Lunsford riding a stallion down the road.
“She had a ready smile and moved with ease, and I admired that about her,” Richardson recalls.