Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. We find that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then. Only 6% of the adult population has no one with whom they can discuss important matters or who they consider to be “especially significant” in their life.
We confirm that Americans’ discussion networks have shrunk by about a third since 1985 and have become less diverse because they contain fewer non?family members. However, contrary to the considerable concern that people’s use of the internet and cell phones could be tied to the trend towards smaller networks, we find that ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of internet activities are associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks. (Discussion networks are a key measure of people’s most important social ties.)
Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. For instance, frequent internet users, and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.
When we examine people’s full personal network – their strong ties and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with having a more diverse social network. Again, this flies against the notion that technology pulls people away from social engagement.
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