More Is Less

The pluses and minuses of having lots of friends.

By Camille Chatterjee, published March 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Women have long been seen as the more social sex. But having a lot of friends may be hazardous to their mental health.

When married men and women over the age of 50 were asked about the number of people in their social network, women reported having at least one more close friend than men did. But the more people women had in their inner circle, the less content they were with life in general, says head researcher Toni Antonucci, Ph.D., of the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan. Men's happiness, on the other hand, was unrelated to how many close pals they had.

Just because women seem to draw confidantes with greater ease than men doesn't mean it improves their quality of life, says Antonucci, who says that the findings also hold for younger, single women. "Women feel more responsible to people and feel more obligated to do things for people," she explains. "It's not that men aren't sympathetic; it's just that they don't think it their job to fix their friends' problems." But this detachment is both a plus and a minus, says Antonucci. Men face fewer demands from their friends--but they also have fewer friends to count on in tough times.