New research shows while the size of personal networks is remarkably stable over time, we substitute many of our initial network members for new ones. In short, we lose and replace about half of our friends every seven years, and as a result the size of our social network remains the same over time.
The study sheds light on the ways in which we meet people influences our social network by investigating whether personal preference or social context has greater impact over how we meet people and the nature of our relationships.
Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst conducted a survey of 1007 people ages 18 to 65 years. Seven years later the respondents were contacted once again and 604 people were reinterviewed.
Mollenhorst found that personal network sizes remained stable, but many members of the network were new. Only 30 percent of the original friends had the same position in a subject’s network seven years later, and only 48 percent were still part of the social network, which contradicts earlier research showing that social network sizes are shrinking because we are becoming increasingly "individualistic."
Mollenhorst also found that social networks were not formed soley on personal choices. Our choice of friends is limited by opportunities to meet, and people often choose friends from a context in which they have previously chosen a friend such as a university alumni club or company where they work.
Also, in contrast to prior research that suggests people typically compartmentalize things like work, social clubs and friends, this study shows that these categories often naturally overlap.
A fascinating component that seems to be missing from the study is the impact of the Internet in expanding the opportunities to meet new people and changing the dynamics of social context.
Posted by Casey Kazan.
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