1 in 7 men have no friends. Why it matters and how Zeta Beta Tau can help
Pundit Scott Galloway reporting on the dearth of friendships in men. (LinkedIn)
In the United States, friendship is on the decline. In fact, in the decades since 1990, the percentage of Americans who say that they have less than three close friends has doubled, going from 16% to 32%. Those reporting no friends at all? That number has risen sharply from 3% to 12%. Thought leader Scott Galloway reports that 1 in 7 men have no close friends at all outside of their family.
This is a problem. Beyond the obvious benefits of friendship — connection, shared memories, someone having your back — there are incredible health benefits attached to having strong friendships.
Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, runs the world’s longest study on happiness. He explores the question: “What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?”
Waldinger is the fourth director of the longest-running study of adult life. Since 1938, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has been following a group of 724 men through work, home, family and health. Over 80-plus years of the study, some experienced meteoric success, some epic failure. But who was happiest?
“The biggest lesson we learned is that it isn’t wealth, fame or hard work that matters. Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period,” he said. He added that the healthiest 80-year-olds turned out to be the ones who were most connected in their 50s. Those with good relationships had healthier bodies and clearer minds than their counterparts.
People who do not have vital connections as they walk through life’s joys and challenges show marked differences from people with strong friends. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam posits that participating in even one social organization and forming friendships could cut your odds of dying in the next year in half. A recent report showed that loneliness registers an impact on your well-being similar to that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and rivals alcohol and smoking as a cause of early death.
Recently, a survey went out to alumni of a fraternity that doesn’t have an undergraduate chapter. The survey invited alumni to weigh in about the future of the chapter and the value of reopening the house on their college campus. The questions boiled down to “Why?” What is the value of their chapter — or any Greek organization — in today’s culture? One alumnus answered with just one weighted word: camaraderie.
There are hundreds — thousands — of other words to back up that shortest answer. Fraternity groups like this one, and like Zeta Beta Tau, are ideal leadership training grounds, hot spots of philanthropy and mentorship. But Zeta Beta Tau’s most basic element is also its most valuable: the camaraderie gained during pivotal years forms ironclad friendships that last decades. And while they are making life richer and better, these friendships are actually making us healthier, happier and live longer.
Here’s a challenge for us in 2023. Let’s buck these statistics. I’ll wager someone came to your mind as you were reading this. Reconnect with them — do it this week. Make plans to see a game, or plan a weekend. If travel is not in the cards right now, just keep in touch. Share an old story, or dig up a picture from the good old days. Your friendship — and your health— will thank you.