How does friendship change in middle adulthood

PhD thesis

Friendship relationships are on everyone's lips, are described in books and sung about in songs, explained in advice guides and celebrated in films. Most people certainly never tire of stressing the importance of friends for their own lives. Nevertheless, the location of this type of relationship in the social system of individuals remains unclear and difficult to grasp. What is a boyfriend or girlfriend? Is he or she always important, always part of your life? How do friendships change in the course of life, through partnerships and family, through work and mobility as well as modern communication technologies? In addition to these individually influenced forms of friendship, it is also difficult to classify the type of relationship in society. What significance do friendships have in the 21st century in a form of society that is characterized by globalization, individualization, but at the same time also by a great longing for family togetherness?

The answer to the questions is not only motivated by a general research interest, but is also fed by observing the consequences of demographic and social change on social structures and individual embedding in the social context. The population in western industrial nations is not only getting older, there is also an individualization and pluralization of forms of life. However, the great freedom of the subjectively constructed life plan does not match the historically grown and socially anchored ideas of old age. Here, the family is supposed to take care of the people who are structurally apparently uninteresting, as society does not really know what to do with older people after their employment or the time of reproductive work, i.e. unpaid work for the family. If childhood and youth are characterized by education and middle adulthood by employment and starting a family, then in old age there is a lack of social responsibility and thus also of social participation. The responsibility for the healthy elderly individual lies in the private sphere. Only in the event of illness and the need for care is the responsibility partially transferred back to society and the state and thus becomes the public sphere. This change is seldom viewed positively by older people like the rest of society, because it is associated with decline and death. Fatally, the late reintegration into the public leads to the social construction of erroneous images of old age.

But if we think of the long phase of healthy old age, which has to get along without social structuring, without a task, then the question arises of how everyday life is organized and, in the case of this work, especially of how it is embedded in the social context that leads to Structuring of the “free time” after active family work with the daily responsibility for children and / or involvement in the labor market is available. If there is no possibility of using the (extended) family, the efficiency of informal non-familial relationships determines social integration and the quality of care with various forms of social support. Friendship is particularly suitable for satisfying these numerous needs. It achieves this qualification on the basis of its constitutional characteristics; Friendships are close and intimate as well as having a high level of knowledge about one another. Interaction partners are only people chosen by the individual. The voluntary nature of the relationship results in satisfactory interactions. On the other hand, subjects have little or no influence on the composition of the family, on colleagues and the neighborhood.

Whether individuals actually use friends in everyday life, and the intensity with which they do this, is presumably very heterogeneous and depends on various factors. Which forms of friendship exist and which variables explain the variation remains unclear because this type of relationship has hardly been researched in Germany. American studies suggest that a holistic view of friendship is hardly possible. They concentrate on parts of the friendly relationship or specific populations.

The present work consists of three parts, the most extensive of which is devoted to the recording and typology of friendship patterns of older people. These are considered in the context of further social relationships and individual life courses, and are thus integrated into the social structure of the individual. In a second step, I am interested in the performance of the social networks of this population, which can be measured not only in terms of size or density, but especially through its composition. Because a diverse network enables reliable support on a broad scale, even in times of demographic change and difficult to assess or changing personal circumstances. In order not to leave out the area of ​​age-specific uncertainties and thus also to consider the areas of age (es) that are spent in social or health need, a chapter on risk assessment follows on the one hand in the area of ​​general change in living conditions and on the other hand with regard to adverse weather conditions . The aspect of the adaptability of an aging population to extreme weather conditions is of particular interest for the use of the data within the City2020 + research project, in which the work is integrated in terms of both content and structure. The sociological focus of the interdisciplinary research network is the recording of social support and social isolation in the city of Aachen and thus also represents the link to the present work. The establishment of strong non-familial relationship systems represents an ideal safety net for all those people who are not in a aging lifelong partnership with children, a local kinship system, and a stable neighborhood community; may this be planned or happened by chance. At the same time, friendship (and acquaintance) are also part of the life of people who are closely related to the family or who are involved in various forms of community life.