Research Paper ESRC Research Methods Programme Working Papers 25
Fluxes and constants in the dynamics of friendships
Social scientists have repeatedly observed the importance of friendship. However, existing empirical studies of friendship often present it as a static phenomenon. A welcome development is marked by a special issue in this journal. This paper discusses the dynamics of friendships using data from the British Household Panel Study. How important are life events such as getting a new job in changing one’s best friend? Given the enduring importance of social class, how stable are friendship patterns of different social class? I use a random effect model to control for unobserved heterogeneity. Dynamics of friendships in contemporary Britain are characterised by flux and stability. The magnitude of year to year change is remarkable; about one in five people change best friends. Yet, stability is also notable, about 6 percent keep the same best friend over more than a decade. There are clear gender and class effects on dynamics. Strength of ties as measured by rank of closest friends also reflects susceptibility to change. Demographic effects on dynamics such as marriage have larger effects than geographic or labour market effects such as moving residence or changing jobs, respectively.