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Still Connected

Still Connected: Family and Friends in America Since 1970

Claude S. Fischer
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Still Connected
    Book Description:

    National news reports periodically proclaim that American life is lonelier than ever, and new books on the subject with titles like Bowling Alone generate considerable anxiety about the declining quality of Americans’ social ties. Still Connected challenges such concerns by asking a simple yet significant question: have Americans’ bonds with family and friends changed since the 1970s, and, if so, how? Noted sociologist Claude Fischer examines long-term trends in family ties and friendships and paints an insightful and ultimately reassuring portrait of Americans’ personal relationships. Still Connected analyzes forty years of survey research to address whether and how Americans’ personal ties have changed—their involvement with relatives, the number of friends they have and their contacts with those friends, the amount of practical and emotional support they are able to count on, and how emotionally tied they feel to these relationships. The book shows that Americans today have fewer relatives than they did forty years ago and that formal gatherings have declined over the decades—at least partially as a result of later marriages and more women in the work force. Yet neither the overall quantity of personal relationships nor, more importantly, the quality of those relationships has diminished. Americans’ contact with relatives and friends, as well as their feelings of emotional connectedness, has changed relatively little since the 1970s. Although Americans are marrying later and single people feel lonely, few Americans report being socially isolated and the percentage who do has not really increased. Fischer maintains that this constancy testifies to the value Americans place on family and friends and to their willingness to adapt to changing circumstances in ways that sustain their social connections. For example, children now often have schedules as busy as their parents. Yet today’s parents spend more quality time with their children than parents did forty years ago—although less in the form of organized home activities and more in the form of accompanying them to play dates or sports activities. And those family meals at home that seem to be disappearing? While survey research shows that families dine at home together less often, it also shows that they dine out together more often. Americans are fascinated by the quality of their relationships with family and friends and whether these bonds fray or remain stable over time. With so many voices heralding the demise of personal relationships, it’s no wonder that confusion on this topic abounds. An engrossing and accessible social history, Still Connected brings a much-needed note of clarity to the discussion. Americans’ personal ties, this book assures us, remain strong.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-710-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Claude S. Fischer
  6. Chapter 1 Alone in America? The Issues at Stake
    (pp. 1-10)

    In mid-2006, a story on findings from a survey spread through the media: “Study: 25% of Americans Have No One to Confide In,” announcedUSA Todayon June 23. “Americans Have Fewer Friends, Researchers Say,” reported ABC News on the same day. National Public Radio headlined “Social Isolation: Americans Have Fewer Close Confidantes” on June 24. TheBoston Globetook two bites at the story: “It’s Lonely Out There” on June 23 and a column by Ellen Goodman on June 30, “Friendless in America.” “Nearly a Quarter of American Adults Have No Close Friends, Survey Finds,” added Reuters on June...

  7. Chapter 2 Studying Personal Networks
    (pp. 11-24)

    In 2004, Peter Bearman and Paolo Parigi published an article provocatively entitled “Cloning Headless Frogs and Other Important Matters.” The authors reported some findings from a survey in which they had posed a question used by many scholars to study social networks (including the scholars who in 2006 reported a great jump in isolation; see chapter 1). They had asked North Carolinians what they were thinking of when they answered the question, “Over the last six months . . . have you discussed important matters with anyone?” Besides discovering that respondents had very diverse notions of what “important matters” were...

  8. Chapter 3 Counting People: Family
    (pp. 25-41)

    This chapter turns to the evidence on the trends between 1970 and 2010 in the volume of Americans’ social involvement. It addresses their connections specifically with relatives; the next chapter addresses their connections with nonrelatives. Some of the available surveys posed questions that lumped family and friends together—for example, asking whether respondents had chatted with “friendsorfamily” the previous day. I discuss those surveys in chapter 4.

    The first step is to clarify what may have changed in the simple, demographicavailabilityof relatives. In the end, what probably matters to people is how many relatives they have...

  9. Chapter 4 Counting People: Friends and Others
    (pp. 42-60)

    This chapter Addresses the same sorts of issues discussed in the previous one about relatives—how many, how often—but about friends and others. Because we can analyze only questions that survey researchers asked over the last forty years, I have to include here items that ask about various categories of social ties, including categories that combine relatives and nonrelatives—such as “About how often do you socialize with close friends, relatives, or neighbors?” I assume that most of the people who came to mind when interviewees were asked such questions were not relatives, and I have therefore put these...

  10. Chapter 5 Counting on People
    (pp. 61-76)

    This chapter turns from Americans’ descriptions of their bonds with family and friends to their expectations for getting help from those people. Friends and relatives assist one another practically by, for example, moving furniture, providing job tips, or lending money; socially by doing things like going to the movies together, playing tennis, or making introductions to potential friends; and psychologically by discussing personal problems, boosting each other when they feel “down,” or just “being there” for each other. Too often, as noted in chapter 1, discussions of “social support” fail to recognize that friends and relatives also hinder one another:...

  11. Chapter 6 Feeling Connected
    (pp. 77-93)

    To this point, the focus has been on how socially connected Americans said they were. We turn now to Americans’feelingsabout their connections to family and friends. To be sure, almost all survey questions are subjective. Even those that ask respondents to number their friends, to report how often they see a parent, or to say how much they can rely on kin get replies that are in significant part reflections of the interviewees’ worldviews (such as what they consider a friendship), wishes (for example, how often they feel they should see their parents), and expectations (their ideas perhaps...

  12. Chapter 7 Conclusions and Speculations
    (pp. 94-100)

    The question that this book has posed is whether and how Americans’ relationships with family and friends changed between 1970 and 2010. The short answer, based on a canvass of published research and available survey data, is: not much. Some of the ways in which Americans engaged with people in their immediate circles changed, but the intimacy and support of close family and friendship ties stayed about the same. Few Americans were socially isolated, and the percentage of those who were did not increase. The number of family and friends with whom people reported being close stayed about the same....

  13. Appendix: Data Sources
    (pp. 101-102)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 103-140)
  15. References
    (pp. 141-154)
  16. Index
    (pp. 155-162)