Matthew Smith, YouGov UK, May 3, 2018
In a recent article for BBC News, Professor Miles Hewstone outlined that having diverse groups of friends can stimulate creativity, encourage greater open-mindedness, and help develop more positive attitudes towards other groups.
However, Professor Hewstone noted that the evidence suggests that people tend to make friends with people who are similar to them, and that this results in a greater belief in stereotypes about both our own groups and those of others.
Now a new YouGov study looks at the diversity of Britons’ friendship groups. The research asked people about the make-up of their circle of friends, with the results revealing whether or not Brits have friends that are different to them across a number of areas including race, sexuality, education, and political outlook.
You ain’t never had a friend like me
The most noticeable finding is the lack of racial and sexual diversity among many Brits’ friendship groups. One in three white Britons (35%) have no friends from an ethnic minority background, while a similar number of straight Britons (33%) say they have no friends of a different sexuality.
Naturally, certain factors play an important role here. Britain’s ethnic minority populations are more concentrated in a smaller number of areas – namely cities – than the white population. For instance, white Londoners in particular are much more likely to have ethnic minority friends, with only 16% having no friends from an ethnic minority compared to 34-46% of white people across the other areas of Britain.
Similarly, homosexuality is less of a stigma among younger Britons and so it is not surprising that the nation’s youth are far more likely to have gay friends than their elders: only 11% of straight 18-24 year olds say they have no non-heterosexual friends, compared to 41% of straight people aged 65 or older.
Age, class and gender
Of course, people from ethnic and sexual minorities represent a relatively small proportion of the British population. ONS figures show that 14% of Britons are non-white while 2.5% are not straight, so it may not be too surprising that many people don’t know any gay people or those from an ethic minority background.
But many other groups make up a much larger proportion of the population, to the extent that many Britons should come into contact with them on a regular basis. Howevver, our data shows that significant numbers of Britons don’t have any friends of a different class, political leaning, or even gender.
Among these more common characteristics, the biggest skews in Britain’s friendship groups are class-related. A third (34%) of people who consider themselves working class say they have no friends from a different social class, with 83% overall saying their friendship group was exclusively or mostly working class. Likewise, 15% of those who identify as middle class have no friends of a different class, with 75% overall saying all or most of their friends were also middle class.
Perhaps understandably, Britain’s youngest adults (18-24 year-olds) tend to have very age-exclusive friendship groups, with 72% saying that all or most of their friends are a similar age to them. This tendency quickly falls away though, with only 38-45% of older age groups saying the same.
Men are more likely than women to believe the gender balance of their friendship group is closer. Almost four in ten men (39%) say that roughly half of their friends are women, compared to only 26% of women who think roughly half of their friends are men. Two thirds (64%) of women say all or most of their friends are female (including 8% who have no male friends), while the figure for men who have mostly male friends is 42% (and just 4% have no female friends).
The university divide
Graduates are more likely to be friends with non-graduates than the other way around. While 44% of those who hold a degree say that most or all of their friends went to university, non-graduates’ friendship groups are more homogenous still, with two thirds (65%) saying that most or all of their friends haven’t gone to university.
Breaking down non-graduates into smaller groups reveals that the fewer educational qualifications a person has obtained, the less likely they are to have even one graduate friend. While 18% of all those who have not gone to university have no friends with degrees, this figure rises to 27% of people whose highest educational qualification is a GCSE and rises to 40% among those with no qualifications. This relationship holds even when accounting for age (as younger people are more likely to have attended university).
By contrast, only 4% of graduates are not friends with anyone that never went to university.
Never befriended a Tory
Friendship groups tend to be politically homogenous too. While the nation split 52%/48% at the EU referendum, few people’s friendship groups see both sides represented so evenly. Only 8% of Remain voters and 14% of Leave voters say that roughly half of their friends take an opposing view on Brexit.
Of the two groups, Remain voters are more likely to surround themselves with people who share their views on Brexit. A quarter of Remain voters (26%) have no friends who want to see the UK leave the European Union, compared to the 18% of Leave voters that are not friends with anyone who wants the country to stay in the EU.
Similarly, those who voted for Labour in 2017 are more likely to have politically homogenous friendship groups than their Tory counterparts. A third of 2017 Labour voters (35%) say that most or all of their friends are Labour supporters, with 16% having no Conservative-supporting friends at all. By contrast, only 15% of 2017 Conservative voters say that most or all of their friends are Conservative supporters, with 11% saying none of their friends support Labour.