The study, which was published in the journal Psychology and Aging earlier this month, compared younger and older people’s friendships. Researchers found that people under the age of 45 have a higher number of overall friends, and that even though adults over the age of 60 tend to have fewer friends, they often interact with those friends more frequently.
"Stereotypes of aging tend to paint older adults in many cultures as sad and lonely," Wändi Bruine de Bruin, lead author of the study, said in a November 7 press release. "But the research shows that older adults' smaller networks didn't undermine social satisfaction and well-being. In fact, older adults tend to report better well-being than younger adults."
The study was based on surveys of 500 adults who are part of the RAND American Life Panel, which, according to its website, is “a nationally representative, probability-based panel of more than 6,000 participants who are regularly interviewed over the internet.”
The study participants were asked to report on the total number of people from different social networks that they had regular contact with over the last six months. Additionally, participants were also asked to reflect on their feelings of well-being and whether their contact with people from their social networks was through face-to-face interactions or by phone, email or the internet.
According to the researchers, the popularity of social media among younger individuals is a major factor as to why they have broader social networks than older people.
The study also found that only close friendships were linked to social satisfaction and well-being among both age groups.
“Loneliness has less to do with the number of friends you have, and more to do with how you feel about your friends,” Bruine de Bruin said in the press release. “It’s often the younger adults who admit to having negative perceptions of their friends. Loneliness occurs in people of all ages. If you feel lonely, it may be more helpful to make a positive connection with a friend than to try and seek out new people to meet.”