Americans are reaching across generations for meaningful friendships, a new AARP survey finds.
Although it’s most common to socialize with peers, 37% of adults say they have a close friend who is at least 15 years older or younger than they are. The connections vary somewhat by generation. Gen Xers are most likely to have a close friend from another generation, with 41% reporting having such friendships, compared to 39% of Boomers and 32% of Millennials.
As Americans age, they expect to have intergenerational friends. The survey found that 46% of Millennials were surprised to have made a connection with someone at least 15 years apart from them in age, but just 22% of Boomers were surprised.
Americans say they most often have met friends of another generation at work (26%). Others connected as neighbors (12%), at church or temple (11%) or through mutual friends (10%). They were first drawn to each other by personality (22%), having things in common (20%), and having shared interests (17%).
Close intergenerational friends get together often: 17% see each other daily, and 34% see their friend weekly. Most often, getting together involves socializing or doing an activity, such as going to the movies (39%), dining in or out (26%), or just talking (25%). To stay in touch, the survey found intergenerational friends of all ages most prefer to communicate in person (51%). Millennials (27%) are more likely to rely on text messaging than both Gen Xers (11%) and Boomers (11%), but in-person is still the most cited way of communicating, even among Millennials.
Perhaps indicating how meaningful they are, these intergenerational connections are not fleeting. The average length of close intergenerational friendships is 11 years, with one in five lasting more than 20 years, AARP shows.
Why do they last? From the younger person’s perspective, Americans say older friends provide another perspective (61%), inspire them (44%), and serve as role models (40%). Similarly, from the older person’s view, younger friends help them see another perspective (54%), give them a greater appreciation for their experiences (37%), and allow them to share opinions and insights (37%).
Beyond the positive impact that social connections have on physical health and psychological well-being, intergenerational friendships also hold potential to reduce ageist beliefs about people of other generations and to improve attitudes about aging. In fact, adults who have close intergenerational friendships are more likely to report having a positive attitude about aging (69%) than those who don’t have these types of friendships (64%).
An online survey of 1,500 adults ages 18 and older was fielded March 21–April 2, 2019 by Interloq, LLC, using the Dynata consumer panel. Among all respondents, 557 reported intergenerational friendships, accounting for 678 intergenerational friendships in total.
Levy, Vicki, and Colette Thayer. The Positive Impact of Intergenerational Friendships. Washington, DC: AARP Research, May 2019. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00314.002