How many friends do you have on Facebook? For most regular Facebook users that number can get pretty high. There are old friends from high school, some from college, work colleagues, family members, church friends, that nice lady you met in line at the grocery store, favorite elected officials and maybe even your neighbor on that flight you took last summer.
But how many of those “friends” are actually friends?
The’s the question researchers sought to answer with an in-depth probe of 25,000 people. Compared to 21st Century online friendships, the results may seem shocking.
While hundreds and sometimes even thousands of people know the surface details like meal habits and vacation destinations of the baker down the street from Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, very few of those people are actually in direct contact on a more personal level.
The survey looked at three things – how many people does one expect to celebrate their birthday with them, how many people they could talk about their sex life with and how many people they thought they could call at odd hours to get bailed out of a jam.
The results weren’t used to taunt Facebook users who have “friends” who aren’t really friends at all, but rather to study the impacts of friendships on LGBT individuals.
On average, respondents indicated they only expected between five and 10 people to celebrate their birthday. As for sex talk and phone calls from jail or the side of the road, for example, people only indicated they had four to seven friends or family to call on.
And those numbers show some interesting trends when they’re broken down. Younger people – those in their 20s – have more close friends than their older counterparts. On the birthday question, 20-somethings indicated they though about eight to 10 people might celebrate their birthday with them while those over 30 indicated just five to seven.
And for straight people, respondents were more likely to have close friends of the same sex while gay or bisexual individuals had a more even mix of males and females.
Straight women indicated about seven people of the same gender might celebrate a birthday together. Straight men said about five. Those numbers drop to just four of the same gender for gay and bisexual men and about five for lesbian or bisexual women.
The same is true for those who can discuss their sex life or call up a buddy in the middle of the night with more straight men and women relying more on the same sex and LGBT respondents spreading their conversations across sexes.
Researchers noted this data seems to suggest a growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and gender equality.
“Our findings suggest that sexual orientation differences in number of same-gender and cross-gender friends are generally small or nonexistent, and satisfaction with friends was equally important to overall life satisfaction for all groups,” the researchers note in the study. “The greater reliance on friends among gay men, lesbians, and bisexual men and women has been true of past cohorts due to historical contexts and more prevalent homophobia.”
To put that into layman’s terms, “having a wide network of close confidants to affirm one’s identity may offset the adverse effects of minority stress, such as dealing with homophobic attitudes and discriminatory social structures and norms.”
Researchers expected the number of friends reported by LGBT respondents to be higher than that of straight respondents, but after conducting the surveys the differences were actually found to be not that far apart.
This shows reliance on friendships to combat prejudice and discrimination may be shrinking and that could largely be due to a more friendly LGBT climate.