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Evergreen Relationships vs. Relationship Churn

Written by: Bill Sherman on Tuesday, 16 June 2009, 7:06 AM

Recently, the Freakonomics blog pointed towards a sociologist at the University of Utrecht who conducted seven-year longitudinal study of social networks.

604 people were surveyed about their friends. Then, seven years later, the participants listed their friends again. According to the study, only 48% of original friends showed up on the second list.

The study was part of a dissertation, so I have not been able to put my hands on the original text. However, some questions come to mind.

  • How old were the participants? (College-age students will probably have higher turnover than middle-age folks (say the seven years between 35 and 42).
  • How were “friends” defined? (Are we talking about “core friends who would bail you out of jail at 3 a.m. or acquaintences on Facebook and Twitter?)
  • Were the particpants chosen by random sample?
  • Were there any noticeable difference between sub-groups–such as gender or age?
  • Would there be differences by socio-economic status or culture?
  • What patterns emerge in tight-knit communities vs. open, migratory communities?

It would be interesting to conduct longitudinal research on these factors. Research on topics, such as this one, will allow us to make insightful observations on relationship patterns. My guess is that rather than a flat percentage, you’d see some individuals retain a tight core of connections for extended periods of time, while others will constantly build ad-hoc cause-based connections.

I believe we’d see substantial variation. Not everyone will follow a seven-year half-life. I’ll see if I can locate a copy of the dissertation and then will share more when data emerges.

One Response to “Evergreen Relationships vs. Relationship Churn”

  1. Kevin Stansen Says:

    I’m curious if this would lead us to any way to establish causality between established social networks and social economic migration:

    *Is there any pattern which is shown to be most prevalent in people who increase their place in the socio-economic hierarchy?

    *Is there any pattern which specifically ‘dooms’ the lowest level of to socio-economic hierarchy to remain there? (and the public policy corollary, what lasting methods can be applied to help these individuals restructure their relationships?)

    June 18th, 2009 6:08 am

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