Individuals who have a lifelong friend are fortunate. Even though many people can remember friends from childhood or early adulthood, it is rare that those friendships are maintained throughout the lifespan. Why social networks shift and change was the question asked by Cornelia Wrzus of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany in a recent study. Wrzus wanted to know exactly how and why circles of friends, acquaintances, family members, and other alliances grow and shrink during different phases in one’s life, and whether specific life events influenced those changes. For her study, Wrzus examined over 275 existing studies involving nearly 180,000 participants. The data she collected was based on social networks from adolescence through adulthood and into the later years of life. She looked at how non-normative life events and normative life events affected the social networks of the participants and also how age factored into the network sizes.
Wrzus found that for the most part, social networks shifted as she expected. Specifically, the social circles grew most dramatically during adolescence and young adulthood. This is a time during which people begin expanding their repertoire of friends and make their debut into the working world, which further expands their network. As they age, they enter into relationships and have children; their networks shift to exclude many of the individuals who were on the fringes of their social networks. They focus instead on more intimate, closer bonds with fewer individuals. Events such as job changes, relocation, divorce, and other sporadic but not uncommon occurrences also led to changes in network dynamics. In sum, Wrzus discovered that the changes in social network size and make-up ebbed and flowed along normal age-related life event trajectories. “At the same time, a stable convoy of family relationships and few close confidants accompanies people through positive and negative life events and as they grow older,” added Wrzus.
Wrzus, Cornelia, Martha Hanel, Jenny Wagner, and Franz J. Neyer. Social network changes and life events across the life span: A mta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 139.1 (2013): 53-80. Print.
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