Friendships in Middle Adulthood
In midlife, generally defined as the period between young adulthood and old age, friendships provide affection, companionship, understanding, and social support and therefore contribute to well-being. Friends can also affect the status, power, wealth, attitudes, behaviors, and values of middle-aged people. In addition to these consequences for individuals, midlife friendship patterns can affect society, such as by reinforcing the class structure and upholding the institution of marriage. Friendship is thus an important type of human relationship during this stage of life. This entry synthesizes what is known about the interactive processes exchanged between friends during midlife, the internal structure of midlife friendships, and how these friendships vary across contexts and individual demographic characteristics.
In Western societies, friends are not determined by blood ties, as relatives are, or by residence, as neighbors are. This absence of a structural definition of friendship results in a lack of clear consensus about which relationships are considered friendships and about the normative expectations relevant to this type of relationship. Although scholars have generally conceptualized friendship as a voluntary relationship between equals, research shows that individuals use the term to refer to relationships that do not meet these criteria, sometimes applying it to mere acquaintances and sometimes reserving it for intimates. Despite this variation in the use of the term, however, most people define friendship social psychologically and, more specifically, affectively, as a close relationship with nonkin.
With age, opportunities for and constraints on friendships change and people approach friendship with different attitudes, skills, and dispositions. Although people experience the middle years in different ways, midlife is the stage of the life course with the potential for the most responsibilities. Not all middle-aged...