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Prioritizing friendship is associated with many health and well-being benefits. However, to date, there have been relatively few studies that have examined cultural moderators of the link between friendship and important outcomes. In other words, is prioritizing friendships more beneficial in some contexts than others? In the current study, we examined how culture- and country-level factors were associated with the importance people place on friendships and the benefits derived from this importance. Multilevel analyses revealed that women, people with higher levels of education, and people living in countries that are more economically equal and high in indulgence placed more value on friendships.
Prioritizing friendships in life was associated with better health and well-being, but these associations depended on many cultural factors. The findings are discussed in the context of the ways in which friendships can enrich health and well-being across different settings. Friendships enrich our lives in many ways. Friends give us both practical and emotional support when we need it. As a result, there are many emotional and physical health benefits of friendships—the more people prioritize friendships, the happier and healthier they are.
Moreover, broader cultural contexts can have large influences on how friendships function and are expressed. Therefore, the benefits that people accrue from friendships might also vary across cultures. In the current study, we examined how the importance people place on friendships varies across cultures and whether this variation is associated with differences in the health and well-being of the people living in those cultures. There is a reliable link between social support and mental and physical health across the lifespan Holt-Lunstad et al. Friends provide us with a strong sense of companionship, mitigate feelings of loneliness Lykes and Kemmelmeier, , and contribute to our self-esteem and life satisfaction Goodwin and Hernandez Plaza, ; Chopik, In terms of predicting health, friendship occasionally predicts health to an equivalent and, in some cases, larger degree compared to spousal and parent—child relationships Bearman and Moody, ; Giles et al.
Friends also help individuals institute healthy behaviors in their own lives. However, friendship is not universally good for individuals—depression and negative health behaviors can also spread through friend networks Smith and Christakis, ; Rosenquist et al.
Nevertheless, the degree to which people value and benefit from friendship may differ across settings and cultures. In other words, different country-level factors might predict how much people value friendships and, in turn, the benefits that people obtain from friendships.
Some form of friendship is present in nearly all cultures and countries Cohen, , but friendships are perceived and constructed differently across cultures Baumgarte, While some cultures employ a looser definition of friendship, others are stricter in the ways they define friendship Stewart and Bennett, ; Goodwin, Based on how people define friendship, there is accompanying variance in how many friends people have and what people expect from friends.
For instance, a cross-national study in friendship found that Americans were more likely to have more friends and differentiate between friends; Ghanaians were more cautious toward friends and having a large group of friends Adams and Plaut, Compared to Chinese adolescents, Western adolescents emphasize more on relationship intimacy and quality interactions in their friendships Keller et al. In addition, friendships are more stable and fixed in some societies and more flexible and relationships of choice in other societies.
In the latter case, relationships can change more rapidly as people have the freedom to voluntarily choose relationships i. As a result, people tend to trust strangers more and are more proactive in maintaining friends, self-disclosing, and provide more support Schug et al. These behaviors are characteristic of friendships in individualistic cultures, as individualistic cultures possess higher relational mobility Kito et al.
There are also several country-level e. However, there have been almost no large-scale examinations of cross-cultural differences in friendship processes. As a result, in the present study, we took a largely exploratory approach to how country-level factors might alter whether people value friendships in their lives.
Research has established different dimensions for social and cultural constructs. Although there are many dimensions on which cultures vary, we elected to focus primarily on the Hofstede dimensions given the great breadth of research on their links to health, well-being, and social behavior and characteristics identified in past research. However, we do run some supplementary analyses examining other taxonomies of cultural dimensions.
Below, we briefly discuss the concept of friendship importance and ways in which friendships might vary across country-level factors that have been traditionally studied by researchers e. Specifically, for each factor, we review its links with well-being and speculate how it might influence friendship importance and interact with friendship importance to predict well-being.
studies have found that friends are important for personal well-being. However, there is little research that explicitly explores the effect of valuing friendship on important life outcomes, like well-being and life satisfaction. Instead, friendship researchers have examined the of friends Ho, , quality of friendship Demir et al.
However, there is variation in how people define friendship, define closeness and support, and define what kind of friends they might have Miche et al. Our study utilizes a different way of thinking about friendship—how much people value friendship i. People might devote more resources to their friends and have higher quality relationships if they value friends and find them important Roberts et al.
Or people might find friends important because they have high quality relationship and their friends hold vital roles in their lives. Indeed, there is some evidence that when friendships are evaluated as important, people experience well-being benefits. For example, feeling committed to the role of being a friend is positively related to life satisfaction, even when controlling for ostensibly more detailed measures of social network involvement e.
Thus, we are treating friendship importance—the degree to which people find friends important and value them—as a proxy for how much people investing in friendships and likely how good friendships are. However, we do acknowledge that specificity is lost in this trade-off for an increased understanding of the instrument across cultural settings. Although there are relatively few studies that investigated how valuing friendship might influence their behaviors and important life outcomes, a study using the World Values Survey found that friendship importance predicted better health and happiness while controlling for family importance Chopik, However, several country-level factors might predict how people value friendship and the extent to which friendship importance is associated with health and well-being.
In the sections below, we provide a short introduction to the country-level factors that we focused on in the current study. With improvements in national GDP, citizens benefit from decreased child labor, lower rates of unemployment, increased school attendance, upgrades in transportation and healthcare services, and other improvements in infrastructure Moniruzzaman and Andersson, ; Muazzam and Nasrullah, Greater GDP is associated with country-level health indicators, including reductions in child and all-cause mortality rates Ward and Viner, , as well as increases in the amount and variety of opportunities for individuals to attain their personal goals and pursue their interests Clark and Senik, Importantly, GDP is positively associated with life engagement, one of the indicators of subjective well-being Hill et al.
On the one hand, because lower GDP often portends several life difficulties e. On the other hand, social networks are a protective factor against stress for people living in low- and middle-income countries Perkins et al.
Therefore, we expect that lower GDP might be associated with people valuing friendships less. However, among people who do value friendship, lower GDP might have a less negative impact on life outcomes because valuing friendships might offset the negative effects of local economic conditions. Overall, quality of life is higher in countries with lower levels of inequality: people are happier, more satisfied, and report greater purpose in life Oishi et al.
Income inequality is associated with increased all-cause and communicable disease mortality Ward and Viner, It may be that, in unequal societies where differences in social status, power, and wealth are more prominent and many social relations are vertical, people value horizontal relationships like friendship more for its focus on reciprocity and sharing Wilkinson, Alternatively, it could be the case that societies with more inequality value friendships less—the salient financial inequality might alter the things that people value in their lives e.
In close relationships, power differences between relational partners oftentimes predict commitment to a relationship, how they make decisions in various domains, and how they express dominance behaviors while interacting with each other Dunbar and Burgoon, ; Farrell et al. However, it is unclear whether PDI would predict how much people value friendships and whether PDI enhances or diminishing the positive effects of valuing friendships. Individualistic countries prefer the preservation and championing of individual freedoms and more diffuse social networks; collectivist countries prefer closely bonded social often familial networks and interpersonal harmony Hofstede, ; Triandis, ; Keller et al.
As a result, people from individualistic cultures rated the lack of interaction with friends as their main source of loneliness, and people from collectivist cultures rated the poor quality of familial relationships and communication as the main sources of their loneliness Lykes and Kemmelmeier, However, this is not to say that collectivism would be linked with lower friendship importance. People from individualistic cultures tend to report having more friends, show less caution toward friends, and feel sorry for those without friends, which might imply a positive association between individualism and valuing friendships Adams, Masculinity corresponds to being more assertive, more interested in the acquisition of status and resources, and a lower focus on the care and affection of others Holleran et al.
Assertiveness is a social skill that allows people to communicate directly with others about their desires Arrindell and Van der Ende, and indirectly le to increases in subjective well-being and general positivity Argyle and Lu, ; Lauriola and Iani, For example, self-reliance and independence are associated with fewer medical checkups, which may translate into poorer health outcomes Calasanti, ; Springer and Mouzon, In the context of friendship, people in masculine societies might be more self-reliant and do not depend on or value friendships as much.
Societies that tend to avoid uncertainty are characterized by more anxiety and aggression aimed at achieving stability and predictability in their society. On the one hand, higher levels of uncertainty avoidance may be associated with lower levels of health, happiness, and well-being due to countries having characteristically higher levels of anxiety Voshaar et al. Because friends provide support for individuals, valuing friendships may alleviate concerns about uncertainty by leading people to seek support from friends that may provide some certainty Hitlin and Piliavin, Therefore, high uncertainty avoidance may be associated with valuing friendships because they serve this comforting role.
As a result, friendships might not be particularly important for or linked with UAI. Long-term orientation refers to the set of beliefs and behaviors aimed at cultivating long-term desirable outcomes Hofstede, Several studies suggest that resistance to consumption and valuing long-term goals lead to greater well-being among individuals and more sustainable societies Sheth et al. In addition, people are usually more willing to sacrifice for and cooperate with their friends when they expect reciprocity from their friends in the future Van Lange et al.
Maintaining long-term committed relationships strengthens physical and psychological well-being Dush and Amato, ; Loving and Slatcher, Given the long-term benefits of friendships, we might expect long-term orientation to be linked with placing higher importance in friendships. Indulgence refers to the extent to which societies allow for the gratification of basic and natural human desires Hofstede, A more indulgent society allows for free expression and engagement in these desires; a more restrained society imposes social norms as a means to restrict the gratification of these desires.
Research in marketing suggests that indulgent consumption is one source from which people derive pleasure and happiness Haws and Poynor, ; Hagtvedt and Patrick, On the other hand, indulgence sometimes activates negative emotions, such as guilt and regret Kivetz and Simonson, ; Keinan et al. A country high in indulgence may encourage individuals to engage in pleasurable activities, which would result in reduced stress and better health Petersen et al.
To our knowledge, no research to date has examined indulgence versus restraint predicting friendship characteristics. However, individuals who feel free to engage in pleasurable activities i. The current study assessed the importance people place on friendships, health, happiness, and subjective well-being in a sample of , participants from 99 countries. We focused on two questions: first, which individual- and country-level factors are associated with variation in friendship importance across countries?
Second, what individual and country-level factors might interact with friendship importance to predict health and well-being? Is valuing friendships particularly beneficial in some countries compared to others? Many of our questions were exploratory—little research existed to guide our hypotheses beyond a select few studies examining differences between individualistic and collectivistic countries and comparing two countries Keller et al.
The from the current study can shed light on how cultural contexts affect friendships and the benefits that individuals accrue from them. Participants were , individuals Since , the WVS has interviewed representative national samples of several different countries all around the world. For the current study, data from waves 1 to 5 of the WVS were aggregated, and 99 different countries are represented in the current report see Figure 1 for country coverage.
Each decade of life was well represented e. Hofstede et al. Power Distance PDI measures the degree to which a culture is accepting of inequality. Long-Term Orientation LTO assesses the outlook of a culture; countries with a long-term orientation place more importance on the future. Indulgence vs. Country-level scores on all of the dimensions were available for 57 countries in the current analyses and for a total of 83 and 85 countries for long-term orientation and indulgence vs.
Participants were asked to indicate how important friends were in their lives on a scale ranging from 1 very important to 4 not at all important. Scores were recoded such that higher values reflected more importance placed on friendships. Worth noting, participants were asked about relational values only in waves 2—5. Responses were reverse-scored so that higher values reflected better self-rated health. Numerous studies have shown that self-rated health measures are strong predictors of mortality Idler and Benyamini, ; Schnittker and Bacak, Responses were reverse scored so that higher values reflected more happiness.
The country-level standing on friendship importance can be seen in Figure 1.Friends with benefits East Lansing
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