The United Nations declared July 30th as “International Day of Friendship.” So each year, we can celebrate the power of friendship to honor the ones who are closest to us. In this article, we look at what friendship means in Germany and what is important to Germans concerning their friends. To answer these questions, we take a closer look at data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP).
Die Vereinigten Nationen haben den 30. Juli als „Internationalen Tag der Freundschaft“ erklärt. So können wir jedes Jahr die Kraft der Freundschaft feiern, um diejenigen zu ehren, die uns am nächsten stehen. In diesem Artikel gehen wir der Frage nach, was Freundschaft in Deutschland bedeutet und was den Deutschen in Bezug auf ihre Freunde wichtig ist. Um diese Fragen zu beantworten, werfen wir einen genaueren Blick auf Daten des International Social Survey Programme (ISSP).
“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidest thing we know.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
To Laugh or to Cry?
What are friends for? Friendship as one form of solidarity is the topic of this year’s “International Day of Friendship” declared by the United Nations. While we might spend quite some time with our friends and consider many people as our “friends,” the role of friendship varies widely and can take many different forms. Some people regard their colleague or their neighbor as a friend, whereas others need a deeper connection with each other to be able to call somebody a friend.
So, who do you think of when talking about friends? Are there any differences between your friends concerning their role? And when do you contact whom? Most people probably have certain friends they meet when they feel sad and other friends with whom they can have fun and enjoy themselves. Others may have friends with whom they can do both. In the following, we take a look at how a sample of the German population spends time with their friends and how they value their friendships. We draw on data from one of the big cross-national survey projects: the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP).
The Power of Friendship
Research has highlighted the role of friends in various cases, and much effort has been put into exploring the effects of friendship networks. Some scholars have found a positive impact on migration and integration . In contrast, others have studied the relationship between friendship and well-being  or focused on the influence of friendship on prejudices . Many have concluded that friendships matter. That is not surprising, given the importance that can be ascribed to social contacts and people’s need to identify with other people or groups.
The Diversity of Friendship
The need to differentiate among the kinds of friends has also been a major challenge. According to Spencer and Pahl , there are three central friendship types: comforters (i.e., the ones who offer a shoulder to cry on), confidants (i.e., those with whom one shares secrets and has fun), and soulmates (i.e., those who know oneself inside out). All three are characterized by long-term endurance and high commitment. They differ significantly from other friendship types such as neighbors or fun-loving friends, with whom the connection often fades or disappears when one of them moves away or pursues a different path in life (e.g., transitioning from single life to family life with children).
Some scholars have focused on these casual and short-lived relationships criticizing the recent trend towards “less useful” relationships. They argue that friendship has become more fluid and less socially routed than it used to be in previous times . In contrast to this cynical view, others claim that late modernity has led to a more complex and diverse friendship pattern, with an increase in cross-sexual friendships  and higher levels of geographically flexible social networks . They attribute a significant role in society to friendship and consider it “a world of hidden solidarities” .
A Snapshot of the German Friendship Landscape
Taking a look at Germany, the ISSP data show that men are slightly more likely to hang out more often with a group of friends than women (Figure 1, Question 1). In general, few people report going out daily. However, around 40 % spend time with a group of friends at least once a week. More than 50 % go out once a month or less often. One possible explanation for this could be differences in personal preferences. Some people might have a higher need for comforters or confidants than others who might prefer to spend their time with fun friends. Be that as it may, drawing implications from this questionnaire item is problematic. It could as well be that many people just do not like to go out, do not have the abilities to do so, or simply have certain constraints that prevent them from going out more often (e.g., obligations such as child-care). These alternative explanations give a first indication of how challenging it can be to capture concepts like friendship via classical survey questions.
The second survey item focuses on close friends (Figure 1, Question 2). Almost 65 % of the German respondents contact their close friends at least once a week. Women appear to have more daily contact with their close friends than men. Overall, this self-reported behavior underlines the significance that close friends may have in our daily lives.
A Friend or a Family to Support Them All?
When in need of social support, close friends are the second choice directly after immediate family members (Figure 2). Interestingly, close friends seem to be slightly more important to women than to men, who tend to prefer close family members more often. The results also hold for pleasant social occasions and point to the varying role of friendship between the sexes.
Between Solidarity and Benefit-Orientation
Germans have different attitudes toward friendship as a general concept. Yet, most respondents agree with the statement that people who are better off should help their friends who are less well off, indicating a high degree of solidarity (Figure 3, Question 1). Most people also disagree with the statement that it is ok to develop friendships with individuals just because they might be of use to this person. Although more women strongly disagree with the statement (about 45 %) compared to men (about 33 %), taking the answer categories strongly disagree and disagree together, the vast majority of the German respondents (about 80 %) rejects the idea of having friends only for gaining personal benefits.
Celebrate Your Friends, Come On!
Overall, friendship seems to have a profound emotional function, even if the form of friendship itself may have changed over the last decades. Many people care and value their friends. The amount of contact may vary, but attitudes and the need for friends in difficult and pleasant times show a definite trend. Maintaining and cultivating one’s friendships properly is not always easy. But does the amount of time spent together really matter if the attitude in the heart is right?
Happy International Day of Friendship!
 Aboud, F. E., Mendelson, M. J., & Purdy, K. T. (2003). Cross-race peer relations and friendship quality. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27(2), 165–173. https://doi.org/10.1080/01650250244000164
 Pinquart, M., & Sörensen, S. (2000). Influences of socioeconomic status, social network, and competence on subjective well-being in later life: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 15(2), 187–224. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7922.214.171.124
 Aberson, C. L., Shoemaker, C., & Tomolillo, C. (2004). Implicit bias and contact: The role of interethnic friendships. The Journal of Social Psychology, 144(3), 335–347. https://doi.org/10.3200/SOCP.144.3.335-347
 Spencer, L., & Pahl, R. (2018). Rethinking Friendship: Hidden Solidarities Today. Princeton University Press. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gbv/detail.action?docID=5675412
 Bauman, Z. (2013). Liquid Modernity. Wiley.
 Monsour, M. (2001). Women and Men As Friends: Relationships Across the Life Span in the 21st Century. Psychology Press.
 Pescosolido, B. A., & Rubin, B. A. (2000). The web of group affiliations revisited: Social life, postmodernism, and sociology. American Sociological Review, 65(1), 52. https://doi.org/10.2307/2657289