Social psychology

Women are more likely than men to say they have a best friend, new study shows

women more likely than men to have a best friend

A new study has found that women are more likely than men to report having a best friend.

The study, published on October 18 in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, involved 260 participants, mostly based in either Europe or North America. Their ages ranged from 18 – 80, with an average age of 31.

The study found that only 85% of men reported having a best friend, versus 98% of women.

Furthermore, the study shows, men’s best-friend relationships were considerably less intimate than women’s. This jibes with prior research showing that “the male social world is built around half a dozen relatively casual relationships, whereas the female social world is built around one or two much more intimate, and hence more fragile, dyadic relationships.”

Factors that matter in choosing a best friend

The traits characterizing women’s friendships involved the closeness of the relationship itself, whereas men’s friendships had more to do with engaging in social activities. For example, the trait of “outgoingness” was a leading factor that men, but not women, mentioned in choosing a friend. This may be, the study’s authors suggest, because men tend to prefer social interaction in groups, whereas women have a stronger preference for one-to-one interactions.

Likewise, the study found that humor was an important characteristic for women’s best-friendships, but not for men’s.

Interestingly, nether attractiveness nor athleticism played much of a role in the best-friend choices of either men or women.

Evolutionary selection pressures

These differences show that men and women view best-friend relationships very differently. This strongly suggests, the authors write, that friendships serve different functional roles in the two sexes, “arising from different evolutionary selection pressures.”

The study also found that only 2% of women had a romantic partner but no best friend, whereas 15% of men were in this situation.

Men more likely to have an opposite-sex best friend

Having a best friend of the opposite sex was rare for both men and women, the study showed. But this situation was considerably more common for men than for women. About 22% of men reported having a best friend of the opposite sex, versus only 15% of women.

This finding reflects the fact that social networks are often divided along gender lines. “Even conversations readily segregate by sex once they contain more than four individuals,” the authors write.

Relationship breakdown: best friend forever?

The study also finds that most relationships — both platonic and romantic — break down because one of the two partners feels that the other is not meeting their expectations. “Relationships break down because one party is dissatisfied with the deal they are getting,” the authors write, “not because both parties ‘agree to disagree.’ ”


Study:Sex Differences in Intimacy Levels in Best Friendships and Romantic Partnerships
Published in: Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 
Authors: E. Pearce, A. Machin, and R.I.M. Dunbar
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-020-00155-z
Publication date: October 18, 2020
Photo: by Free-Photos from Pixabay