Sociology Friendship
Beate Volker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0170


The question “who is friends with whom” is nontrivial in sociology, because friendship—in particular the degree to which people from different social groups are friend with each other—is an indicator for a society’s social cohesion and openness. Because friendship ties are weaker than marriage ties and not ascribed as family ties, they are a better indicator of societal openness than these other ties. Although friendship patterns are an important indicator for these macro-level processes, friendship is mostly studied in the micro level. A large part of research is devoted to the study of friendship patterns among different groups in society and within different settings such as rural or urban areas or the workplace and the neighborhood. Next to marriage, friendship is the most intimate, trustful, and voluntarily chosen tie people maintain. However, unlike marriage, friendship is a nonexclusive relationship, and there are no social institutions defining and protecting this relationship. It is this freedom from institutional rules that makes the relationship particularly interesting for the social sciences. For example, an important research question is to what degree people chose friends according to their preferences and to what degree structural constraints influence these choices. Furthermore, in modern societies, where ascribed bonds with family are often at risk, friendships might become even more important than before, because it is the type of relationship that can provide similar functions as a family. However, this potential role of friendship can be counteracted by enhanced trends toward efficiency, time pressure, and rationalization. Accordingly, another important strand of research deals with the question whether friendship patterns changed along with modern developments as well as through one’s life. Finally, it is without any doubt that friends influence each other—for the good or the bad—and that having friends is associated with better health and well-being. How this exactly works and can be explained is also an important topic in the literature on friendship.


Given the interdisciplinary nature of the topic, many journals from sociology, psychology, and educational science publish studies on friendship relationships. A few deserve comments in particular; but the list is not exhaustive. Social Networks is the most important sociological journal on the study of friendships as it focuses on all aspects of social relationships. In addition, the general sociological journals such as American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, and Social Forces publish articles on friendships. Journals such as Urban Affairs Review are also interested in relational patterns and in friendships in particular, although the focus is more often on urban issues, neighborhoods, and the impact of local places in general. A more social-psychological but still interdisciplinary journal is the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. As far as friendship is discussion in comparison with family and marriage, the Journal of Marriage and the Family also publishes articles on friendship. Journals that focus on particular aspects of social groups, gender, migrants, or youth/adolescence are high in number, and they are all publishing papers on friendships; examples are Migration Studies and the Journal of Research in Adolescence.

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