Married men 'have no close friends' as loneliness trebles in middle age
Stark new research shows chances of friendlessness trebles by late middle age
Published 16/11/2015 | 11:41
It is among the most basic of human needs but stark new research suggests that more than two and a half million British men have no friends they would turn to for help or advice in a crisis.
A study of relationships in the UK found that men’s chances of friendlessness almost treble between their early 20s and late middle age.
And married men are also significantly less likely than their single counterparts to say they have friends to turn to outside of the home.
The new findings will add weight to warnings of a “crisis of masculinity” in Britain amid evidence of an alarming rise in suicide among men, especially those in middle age.
The findings emerge from research carried out by the Movember Foundation, the group behind the annual charity fundraising event in which men grow moustaches for the month of November.
In addition to raising money to combat male cancers the group is focussing on increasing awareness of male mental health issues.
Last month research published by the charity campaign “Calm” (Campaign Against Living Miserably) showed that more four in 10 men have thought about taking their own lives at some point.
A YouGov survey for Movember asked men to say how many friends, if any, outside the home they would discuss a serious topic such as worries about money, work or health with.
Just over half (51 per cent) said two or fewer but one in eight overall said none.
That equates to around 2.5 million men across the UK.
When the results are broken down by age it suggests men have fewer close friendships as they get older, with only seven per cent of those under 24 saying there were no friends with whom they would discuss a serious topic but 19 per cent of over-55s.
And while marriage offers lifelong support and companionship, the study shows that married men have some of the lowest levels of support outside the home.
They are more than a third more likely than their single counterparts to say they have no-one to turn to outside of the home.
While 11 per cent of single men said they had no friends to turn to in a serious situation, that rose to 15 per cent among married men.
Strikingly, married men are also more than twice as likely as men who cohabit unmarried with a partner to say the same, suggesting that marriage itself, rather than being in a long-term relationship, cuts their ties with their friends.
And the effect could be permanent, the findings suggest: even divorce does not increase their overall chances of having close friends they could turn to for help, which remains at 15 per cent.
Although the survey only looked at men, research among younger people published by the Office for National Statistics last year which asked a similar question, showed that women are significantly more likely than men to say they have someone to turn to for help in a crisis.
“Evidence does show that men do need relationships,” said Sarah Coghlan, country director for Movember UK.
“I think you can get through large spans of life without noticing these things but there are critical times when they need more than just their mothers or father or wife to talk to if they are going to get through it.
“These are the periods where isolation really creeps in.”
Movember is dedicating some of its fundraising efforts to new initiatives to help build friendship and support networks among men.
“One of the things we see is that men are out of the habit of striking up new friendships,” she said.
“Women are quite comfortable with striking up a new friendship and saying ‘Hi do you want to go for a glass of wine after work or even see a film next Tuesday’.
“For men that’s just not socially acceptable in the same way.
“We have to find innovative means that are out there, how do we get men to reconnect with each other.
She continued: “Men are expected to then spend time with their wives, and that’s normal and natural and very healthy, but at the cost perhaps of friendships that they need to invest in.
“I think it is just about balance, like all things in health, but the interesting thing about asking that question here is having that male lens, the way men approach these things is different from the way women do.”
She added: “If you look at the modern world most families are two working parents, that puts a lot of pressure on men, they don’t have the same time in their lives.
“My father spent all day Saturday on the golf course but my mother was at home all week.
“It is important to highlight to women as well as men that that investment is crucially important for mental health.
"They need to spend time on relationships, women value those relationships, their friendships and spend time on them, enriching them.”