Having a wide circle of friends could be the key to happiness and well-being in middle aged men and women, according to new research.
Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that small number of friends at the age of 45 was linked to lower levels of psychological wellbeing for both men and women.
Study author Dr. Noriko Cable, a senior research fellow at the University College London, explained “Having more friends with whom we actually meet is important to our mental health. Not having friends at all is bad for our mental health. We need to treasure friends that we have.” The study relates to real life encounters, as Facebook friends and “virtual” encounters via Social Media and the internet are no substitute for face-to-face human interaction.
The study included more than 6500 British men & women born in 1958, all of whom were part of the National Child Development Study (NCDS). Information about friends & family, including who they met up with once a month ore more, and about their well-being was collected from them when they were aged 42, 45 and 50 years old. One in seven said they had no contact with relatives besides their immediate family. About one in 10 said they had no friends. However, four of 10 men and about one in three women said they had more than six friends whom they saw regularly.
Those numbers counted, Cable found. Compared to those who had 10 or more regular contacts, having fewer at age 45 was linked with poorer sense of well-being for both men and women.
The size of the relative network also influenced well-being, with larger networks boosting well-being, but this only held for men. Staying on in full time education after 16 also reduced the size of men’s friendship network, but it increased women’s—by 38 per cent if they left between 17 and 19, and by 74 per cent if they left after the age of 20.
Exactly why women’s lack of relative contacts didn’t affect their well-being wasn’t examined in the study, but Cable commented, “it has been said that women are less likely to draw psychological resource out of their kinship.” Relatives often put pressure on women, she said, ”whereas friends are more likely to support women’s own choices.”
The research shows that friends are important for both men and women to boost well-being at midlife, but that men should pay close attention also to their family contacts. Middle-aged people often have to cope with multiple demands and have limited time for themselves. But it is worthwhile to spare time and effort to expand and nurture relationships. For women in particular, friendship is a good investment.