Life is sweeter when it’s shared with friends, and most Americans recognize that value, according to a recent series of reports from AARP. In fact, many Americans say they want deeper connections with others.
Although nine in ten adults believe friends are an essential part of living a healthy and happy life, nearly half of adults long for more meaningful relationship with their close friends. That feeling is most common among millennials (64%) and least among boomers (36%).
As reasons for lack of depth in friendships, respondents most often cited being busy and living far away from one another. Though technology would seem to offer a solution to these issues, 11 percent of millennials say that technology hurts their friendships, but just 3 percent of boomers feel the same.
Young and Old Connections
Today’s multigenerational workforce means more opportunities for close connections among people of different age groups. According to the AARP survey, nearly four in ten adults (37 percent) have a close friend who is at least 15 years older or younger than they are. People most often meet these friends at work (26%), in their neighborhood (12%), at church or temple (11%), or through mutual friends (10%).
Intergenerational friendships are equally common among men and women, though boomers and Gen Xers more often have friends of a different generation than millennials. Survey respondents said that they value the perspective that friends of a different age can provide, and Younger adults said that they are often inspired by their older friends, whom they view as role models.
Almost half (45%) of close intergenerational friendships have lasted at least 10 years and one in five (20%) has lasted for more than two decades.
Bonding With Buddies
On average, Americans say they have four close friends. Most live nearby or within an hour (66%), and about half talk to each other at least weekly. While all adults communication most often in-person, older adults are more likely than younger adults to connect in-person with their close friends; younger Americans communicate more often than older adults via text message.
All generations agree that the top two benefits of friendship are having someone to share activities and experience life with, and having someone to talk to, but opinions across generations are more nuanced. Boomers are more likely to say they value sharing activities and life experiences with others. Gen Xers, meanwhile, are more likely to rely on friends to help solve problems, and millennials are more likely to view friendships as part of a healthy lifestyle and a way of feeling valued.
How deep does the sharing go among friends? Younger generations are more open to delving into personal topics with friends than older adults. About half of millennials (52%) and Gen Xers (48%) say they don’t hide anything from their friends, but more than two-thirds of boomers (37%) says they do hide some information from their friends. Gen X women lead the way when it comes to sharing with their female friends. Compared to boomer women, Gen X women are more likely to hide nothing from close friends (Gen X, 49%; boomers, 39%) and to say that no topic is off limits (Gen X, 55%; boomers, 40%).
Fewer than one in five millennials (17%) say sex is a forbidden topic with friends, while it’s off the table for almost two in five boomers (37%). The most common banter among close adult friends of all ages: children and family, friends, shared past experiences, and hobbies.
The AARP survey shows that men and women can have different kinds of friendship. Women are generally more open with their friends than men and rely on friendships for support. While women talk more about relationships with their close friends, men tend to stick to sports, hobbies, and politics.
Nearly two-thirds of adults say they have a best friend. Among boomers, women are more likely than men to report having a best friend (boomers, 67%; Gen X, 57%).
Having a close friend of the opposite sex can push people out of their comfort zones and allow them to hear different points of view. Women are less likely than men to have opposite-sex friendships, AARP discovered. While 35 percent of boomer men say they have a close female friend, just 20 percent of boomer women say they have a close male friend. For women, millennials are twice as likely to have opposite-sex relationships compared to boomers.
The findings are based on a spring (March–April) 2019 online survey of 1,500 adults ages 18 and older exploring close friendships, intergenerational friendships, same sex and opposite sex friendships.
Levy, Vicki, and Colette Thayer. The Positive Impact of Intergenerational Friendships. Washington, DC: AARP Research, May 2019; revised February 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00314.002