• Keeping Friends

Friendship Counts: Looking at the numbers

Published: October 13, 2008 | Last Updated: May 4, 2024 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading

When I periodically check out the most popular searches on this blog (yes, I am addicted to Google Analytics), many of them have to do with numbers.

Readers are always interested in how the numbers of their friendships stack up to those of others. There isn’t too much new in the number world. And without a real friendship census, counting numbers of friends still remains a very imprecise ‘science’ because of the wide variability among the groups researchers study, the techniques they use, and the questions they ask.

[In case you can’t see the small print: The Friendship Pyramid depicted above has three slices. At the apex are best friends, than close friends in the middle, and casual ones at the base. Generally, women tend to have more friends of that type as they go from top to bottom.]

Friendship numerology: More art than science

Some of the soft conclusions we can draw about numbers from friendship research include:

  • People have only a small circle of best friends relative to close ones and casual ones (as illustrated in the pyramid).
  • While there is wide variability, most women have between 2 and 5 very close or best friends.
  • As a group, women tend to favor a smaller, more intimate circle of friends than men.
  • An upper limit of the number of friends someone can maintain at once is called “Dunbar’s number.” British anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar has conducted research that concludes that humans are functionally hard-wired to handle a maximum of 150 friends at a time.
  • An MSN Messenger study conducted in the UK, still one of the most comprehensive studies of the friendship patterns, surveyed 10,000 people, both male and female. The study found that Brits collect an average of 196 friends over a lifetime. They only keep one out of 12 of them.
  • Ironically, the same survey reported that we tend to see social friends (AKA casual ones) more often than close ones. For example, the survey ound that women see their social friends every 3.5 days while they see
    their close friends only six times a year.

If you find this interesting, you may want to read some of my ‘numerous’ older posts related to numbers.

How many friends does it take?

When it comes to friendship who’s counting?

Friends in the digital playground


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Comments (3)

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  1. Ben says:

    I wrote a connection triangle on my blog about friendships, interested in knowing what you think.

  2. Irene says:

    Every woman needs a different number of friends and often the number varies over time. Sounds like you have enough friends for you and that’s what matters most!


  3. fmchick says:

    I find this post to be very informative and a real weight-lifter.
    I’ve always wondered if I have less than the average girl’s amount of good friends. Like maybe there’s something wrong with me.
    I currently have two “best friends” and about 4 social friends that I see and/or talk to on a semi-daily-basis. I thought maybe I wasn’t good at keeping up friendships because they do take quite a bit of time and effort. Between boyfriend, job, kid in college, family, etc., I find it difficult to stay in touch as much as I know I should. I’ll always have my 2 besties…even if a couple of months go by before we see or talk to eachother (most of our conversations are held online) and knowing that they’ll always be there, even if I don’t call as much as I should…gives me a connected and comforted feeling.

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