According to a survey of 1,500 people age 18 and older, 37 percent of adults say they have a close friend who is at least 15 years older or younger than they are. Among those who said they had close intergenerational friendships, 26 percent of respondents say they met their pal on the job.
"It's not uncommon now for there to be more generations in the workplace,” says Colette Thayer, a senior research adviser at AARP who coauthored the report. “You have millennials, Gen X, boomers and some silent generation even. So that's four generations and sometimes five, with Generation Z starting their careers. Work can be a good place to start these close friendships."
Other ways people made friends with adults who were significantly younger or older included being neighbors (12 percent), worshipping in the same church or temple (11 percent) or meeting through mutual friends (10 percent).
Once the connection is made, these intergenerational friendships can be long-lasting. The average length of close intergenerational friendships is 11 years, with 1 in 5 lasting more than 20 years, AARP found.
The age difference can benefit both parties. Younger people say older friends provide another perspective (61 percent), inspire them (44 percent) and serve as role models (40 percent), the survey found. From the older person's point of view, younger friends help them see another perspective (54 percent), give them a greater appreciation for their experiences (37 percent), and allow them to share opinions and insights (37 percent).
Many of these intergenerational friends are close enough that no subject of conversation is off-limits. Among the respondents who said they had a close friend at least 15 years younger or older, 39 percent say they hide nothing from their friend, and 47 percent say they are fairly open despite not sharing everything.
"These are people they are meeting through the workplace that they're really establishing these very close bonds with and they're talking about everything,” says Vicki Levy, who also is a senior research adviser and coauthor of the AARP report.
The survey was conducted online from March 21 to April 2, 2019, by AARP Research.