As young parents frantically balance work and family life, new research suggests that allowing friendships to fall by the wayside could be bad for your long-term health.
The midlife wellbeing of men and women depends on having a wide circle of friends whom they see regularly, finds research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
A network of relatives is also important—but only for men—shows the study of more than 6500 Britons born in 1958.
The authors base their findings on information collected from the participants, all of whom were part of the National Child Development Study (NCDS), when they were aged 42, 45 and 50.
At the age of 42, participants completed a validated questionnaire (Malaise Inventory) to gauge their psychological wellbeing and provided details of their partnership and job status, as well as the age at which they left full-time education.
Most had left school at the age of 16, had a partner and were in pretty good psychological health.
Compared with those with 10 or more regular contacts, smaller networks of friends at the age of 45 were associated with significantly lower levels of psychological wellbeing for both sexes.
- One in seven said they had no contacts with relatives outside their immediate household and around one in 10 said they had no friends.
- Four out of 10 men and around one in three women said they had more than six friends whom they saw regularly.
- Staying on in full time education after 16 reduced the size of men's friendship network, but it increased women's.
These findings were consistent irrespective of whether they had a partner/job or had had a mental health issue in the past.
Psychological wellbeing was also influenced by the size of kinship networks, although to a lesser extent than friendship—but only for men.
Psychological wellbeing was especially poor among those with no relatives or friends: among men this was 2.3 points lower if they had no relatives and 2.6 points lower if they had no friends compared with those with 10 or more regular social contacts.
For women, lack of friends had an even greater impact on wellbeing. This was 4 points lower if they had no friends. But a lack of relatives had no emotional impact.