Azara Blog: Having friends allegedly makes you live longer

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Date published: 2005/06/16

The BBC says:

Good friends promise to be there for you, and their presence can actually help you live longer, researchers say.

Australian scientists said having friends around in old age can do more for life expectancy than having family members around.

The team looked at how a range of social, health and lifestyle factors affected the survival rates of more than 1,500 people over 70.
The team took data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging (ALSA), which began in 1992 in Adelaide, South Australia.

As part of the study, people were asked how much personal and phone contact they had with their various social networks, including children, relatives, friends and confidants.

The team then looked at each participant's survival rates over the following decade, checking them after four years, and then at around three yearly intervals.

It was found that close contact with children and relatives had little impact on survival rates over the 10 years.

However, those with the strongest network of friends and acquaintances were statistically more likely to be alive at the end of the study than those with the fewest.

After controlling for demographic, health and lifestyle variables, the people in the top third of friends social networks were found to be 22% less likely to die over the following decade than people in the lowest third.

This was evident even if the person had been through major changes such as the death of a spouse or close family members, and the relocation of friends to other parts of the country.

The researchers, led by Lynne Giles at Flinders University, in Adelaide, said the benefits may be due to the fact people could choose their friends, as opposed to family members.

Another pointless piece of "research", confusing correlation and causation. (Well, the BBC certainly makes this confusion in the first paragraph, perhaps the "researchers" were more careful.) Could it be that people with a more positive outlook on life both live longer and have more friends? Could it be that these people even over-estimate their social networks relative to people with a less positive outlook? Was it worth spending any money at all doing this analysis?

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