Personal Growth

This Is How Your Friendships Differ in Your 20s and 30s

In college, you were probably rolling deep in a huge crew of buddies. Oh yeah. Good times, man. But if you're in your 30s, that story's probably changed quite a bit. Don't stress if your current social circle is a shrunken model of what it once was — that could be a good sign. What a relief.

Shrink the Squad

According to a 2015 study published in Psychology and Aging, quantity and quality do matter in regards to friendships, but not necessarily at the same time. (Good thing, too. That would be exhausting.) The researchers found that having more friends in your 20s and having a smaller group of higher quality friends in your 30s are predictors of well-being later in life. So if your 21st birthday was a rager with your bar-filling squad while your 30th birthday party just included two friends and a home-cooked meal, you can relax. You're doing just fine — science says so.

"Earlier on in life, we're more interested in exploring and acquiring as much information and knowledge about the world as we can. We do that in part by socializing with an array of people," Paul Duberstein, a psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester, tells Quartz. "As we reorient our goals and move into our 30s, we begin to clip the wings of our social network. The amount of people and the effort we spend on people in the network are more concentrated and of higher quality." Fortunately, this is a sort of social shift that we're naturally inclined toward. Score.

Hooray for Homebodies

This study took place over 30 years, following 100 University of Rochester students from the 1970s. The participants were asked to record and describe their daily social interactions at age 20 and again at 30. Fast-forward a few decades, and those now-50-year-old participants were asked to answer questions about their current well-being, level of loneliness and depression, and quality of friendships. The results showed that having more social interactions at age 20 and having higher-quality social connections at age 30 predicted better well-being at age 50. Unfortunately for the 30-something social butterflies in the group, having "more frequent social activity at age 30 was associated with marginally worse psychological outcomes at age 50."

No New Friends

If that didn't give you enough reasons to not feel bummed out about your shrinking social circle, there's more. For a 2016 study from Aalto University in Finland and the University of Oxford in England, researchers found that around age 25 is when friends start getting cut from the team. In your early 20s, men and women are more "socially promiscuous," making lots of friends and meeting many new people. But soon enough, that circle gets cut down as values shift. "People become more focused on certain relationships and maintain those relationships," Kunal Bhattacharya, a postdoctoral researcher who co-authored the study, told CNN. "You have new family contacts developing, but your casual circle shrinks."

There may be an evolutionary reason here. As we climb the age ladder, we're primed to start thinking of our families and raising children. Nailing down a few strong relationships means extra hands to help out with the children, something called the "grandmother effect." "It's the 'tend and befriend' idea, meaning relationships become more important when you have children," Michael Price, director of the Center for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University London who was not involved in the study, told CNN. "You're now investing in offspring for the rest of your lives." Maybe the pals you did shots with at the bar on your 21st birthday aren't the ones to support you as a parent. And that's okay.

Want to strengthen your crew? Check out Shasta Nelson's "Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Joanie Faletto May 9, 2018

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