Fall 2004 – Spring 2005 Surveys: Friendship

General Purpose | Major Findings | Interview Schedule - Fall 2004 | Interview Schedule - Spring 2005

General Introduction
Fall 2001
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Fall 2002

Spring 2003

Fall 2003
Spring 2004
Fall 2004 / Spring 2005
Spring 2007
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Spring 2009

Major Findings

The Meaning of Friendship
In each survey, we began by trying to get an idea of what friendship means to Holy Cross students. In the fall we asked students to tell us “the first two things that come to mind when you think of friendship”; in the spring, we asked them to tell us the first two things that come to mind when they complete the sentence “A close friend is someone . . . .” Applying the same coding scheme, we found that these two questions evoked different response patterns, apparently reflecting the difference in attributes associated with friends in general versus close friends. Table 7.1 shows the meanings that were assigned by 5 percent or more of the combined sample.

Table 7.1. Percentage of Holy Cross students who attributed various meanings to the terms “friendship” (fall 2004) and “a close friend” (spring 2005).

Meaning assigned


A close friend







Fun (someone with whom you have a good time)



Support (someone who is there for you)






Companionship (someone you like to hang out with)



Communication (someone you can talk to)



Similarity (someone who has similar qualities or interests)



Caring (someone who cares about you)



Acceptance (someone who won’t judge you or you can be yourself around)






Trust ranked first for both friendship and close friends; however, thereafter the rankings differed. Loyalty and fun were associated by nearly a third of the fall sample with friendship but by less than 20 percent of the spring sample with respect to close friends. Instead, support (someone who is there for you) and communication (someone you can talk to) were far more likely to be mentioned in connection with close friends than just friends. Thus, conceptions tended to differ depending on the type of friendship, with helping and confiding in one another associated more often with close friends than friends.

In contrast to type of friendship, conceptions of friendship did not differ markedly by gender or by academic class standing. When data for the two surveys were combined, the same four qualities were associated most often with friends by both men and women as well as members of each class: trust, loyalty, fun, and support.

Friendship Networks
In the fall survey, after probing the meaning of friendship we asked students to identify the “four people whom you would describe as your best or closest friends.” Then we asked several questions about this group. On average, half of the four friends were fellow Holy Cross students. And, not surprisingly, the number of Holy Cross students among respondents’ four closest friends increased with each class year, from 1.2 in the first year to 2.7 in the fourth year. Nearly one-third of first-year students, who had been on campus for only two to three months at the time of the interview, named none of their four closest friends as being from Holy Cross. By comparison, this occurred among only 4 percent of the fourth-year students. Similarly, 14.5 percent of first-year students, as compared with 58.8 percent of fourth-year students, named at least three Holy Cross students among their four closest friends. So, the college years clearly mark an important transitional period in the friendship network of Holy Cross students.

The four friends formed six pairs of relationships. When we asked about each of these six relationships, we found that two-fifths of the respondents named friends who were all acquainted with one another. Such groups were especially likely when all four friends were either from Holy Cross (in 89 percent of the groups everyone knew one another) or from outside the College (in 66 percent of the groups everyone knew one another).

We also asked about the sex and race/ethnicity of all four friends as well as the academic class of friends from Holy Cross. When we examined the correspondence between friends’ and respondents’ attributes on these variables, the data supported a basic principle from studies of interpersonal attraction: people tend to form friendships with others who are similar to them. In every case, at least half of the four closest friends were the same sex as the respondent; and in 54 percent of the cases, all four friends were the same sex as the respondent. For 69 percent of the sample and 74 percent of whites, all four friends were the same race or ethnicity as the respondent. And among those who had a friend from Holy Cross, 83 percent of respondents were in the same academic class as the friend.

To gauge the size of students’ friendship network, we asked respondents in the fall survey to tell us, thinking about all their friends, how many friends (1) “could visit at any time without waiting for an invitation” and (2) they could “talk with frankly without having to watch what you say.” The number of such friends ranged broadly, from 0 to 100, with medians of 10 and 9 respectively. In general, men reported significantly larger friendship networks than women. For example, one-third of the men compared with 19 percent of the women estimated that 16 or more of their friends could visit without an invitation; and nearly one-quarter of men versus 8 percent of women estimated a similar number of friends to whom they could speak frankly.

The Structure of Relationships with Best Friends
When students in the fall survey were asked to identify their best friend, one-third named a Holy Cross student. Like the number of friends, the number of best friends at Holy Cross increased over time, from 13 percent of first-year students to 49 percent of fourth-year students. This increase as well as the relatively high percentage of friendship choices which were not from the College may be partly a function of the length of relationships. In 57 percent of the cases, respondents reported that they had known their best friend as long as or longer than they had known any of their other three friends; and they tended to have known their best friend much longer (7 years) than the average length of the relationships with their other three friends (5 years).

The spring survey focused on friendships at Holy Cross, initially asking students about “the one person at the College with whom you have the closest relationship.” One-quarter of the respondents described this person as their “best friend” and another 60 percent described him or her as “one of four best friends.” Analyzing only best friends from the two semesters, we found homogamous tendencies with respect to sex and race/ethnicity: 81 percent of men’s best friends were men; 81 percent of women’s best friends were women; and 87 percent of respondents chose someone with the same race or ethnicity. In addition, 90 percent of best friends who were at Holy Cross were in the same academic class as the respondent.

In both semesters we asked where or how the respondent had met their friends and how they were connected socially other than being friends. In the fall term, over 60 percent of respondents reported that their best friend was from their home town. When the best friend was a student at Holy Cross (N=116), respondents were most likely to have first met him or her in their residence hall (27.6 percent) or after having been assigned as roommates (12.1 percent). Other frequent meeting sites were elementary or high school (11.2 percent), Gateways summer orientation (11.2 percent), and a sport team (8.6 percent). A few others met in class (6 percent), through a campus organization or group (4.3 percent), or at an indeterminate place through a mutual friend (9.5 percent). Among respondents with Holy Cross best friends, 43 percent reported that they presently were roommates or suitemates and another 22 percent lived in the same residence hall; one-quarter were members of the same campus organization, 19 percent were teammates, and 40 percent were taking a class together.

Given the numerous connections between respondents and best friends at Holy Cross, we would expect them to spend a great deal of time together. In the spring survey, we asked respondents to estimate the amount of time they spend with their “closest” friend during a typical weekday, breaking the day into morning, afternoon, and evening. For the sample as a whole and also for “best friends,” respondents reported being together with their friends an average of six hours a day. It seems unlikely that people would spend as much time together with friends (other than spouses) at any other time in their adult lives.

Activities and Topics of Conversation with Friends
Both surveys attempted to measure what students did and what they talked about with their friends. To do so, we asked how often in the past month respondents had engaged in various activities or talked about various topics with their best friend (fall) or closest friend at Holy Cross (spring). The time frame posed problems in the fall, however, because the majority of respondents’ friends were not at the College. Only one activity—communicating online—occurred more frequently among respondents whose best friend was not at the College. Every other activity rarely or never occurred among this group of respondents. Table 7.2 shows the estimated number of days per week that respondents reported doing various activities with Holy Cross students who were their best (fall) or closest (spring) friend.

The most frequent activity was eating lunch or dinner with friends, which 85 percent of the respondents reporting doing either several times a week or every day. Other activities that respondents reporting doing with friends two to three times a week were watching TV together, communicating online, listening to music, and talking on the telephone. Gender-neutral activities, in which men and women did not differ significantly, included eating lunch or dinner, attending church, attending films, and listening to music together. Women were more likely than men to communicate online or on the telephone with their friends, to study together

, go shopping together, and to share clothes. Men were more likely than women to exercise, go to parties, watch television, attend sports events, play video games, compete with, and argue with their friends.

Table 7.2. Estimated Number of Days Per Week that Respondents Participated in Various Activities with Holy Cross Friends by Gender.





Gone to lunch or dinner together




Watched TV together




Communicated online




Listened to music together*




Spoken with one another on the telephone




Competed with one another*




Gone to a party together




Worked out or exercised together




Studied together




Played video games together




Attended a sports event together




Shared clothes




Attended a non-sports event together




Gone shopping together




Had a serious argument or conflict*




Attended a film together




Attended Mass or religious services together








*N = 162, 80 men and 82 women; not asked in fall 2004 survey.

Table 7.3 reports the estimated number of days that respondents reported talking about various topics with their Holy Cross friends. The two most frequent topics of conversations, averaging nearly five days a week, were the opposite sex and classes. Personal matters, sports, and relationships with others also were discussed for more than three days a week, on average. Except for religion, music, the opposite sex, and one another’s shortcomings, there were sharp gender differences. Men were far more likely to talk about sports and politics, whereas women were more likely to discuss classes or more personal topics such as personal matters, family, future plans, their relationship with one another, and relationships with others.

Table 7.3. Estimated Number of Days Per Week that Respondents Talked about Various Topics with Holy Cross Friends by Gender.

Topic of Conversation




The opposite sex




Classes or course work




A personal matter








Relationships with others












Future plans or goals




Your own or your friend’s shortcomings*








Your relationship with one another












*N = 162, 80 men and 82 women; not asked in fall 2004 survey.

Opposite-Sex Friends and Romantic Relationships
In both semesters, we also gathered information on activities and conversations with friends of the opposite sex. If the best friend (fall) or closest Holy Cross friend (spring) was the same sex as the respondent, we followed with the same series of questions about their best or closest friend of the opposite sex. If the best or closest friend was of the opposite sex, we then asked respondents about their best of closest friend of the same sex. Finally, we asked respondents if they were “intimately or romantically involved with someone at this time.” It was clear that many students distinguished between opposite-sex friendships and romantic relationships, because when asked to describe their opposite-sex friend, the majority of respondents who were romantically involved did not identify their romantic partner. Even when respondents identified their romantic partner among their four best friends, they often were careful to note that the “friend” also was socially connected to them as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”

Eighteen of the respondents, four in the fall and 14 in the spring, when the choice was limited to a fellow Holy Cross student, reported that they had no opposite-sex friends. Of the 18, 11 were men and seven were women.

Respondents interacted with same-sex friends more often than opposite-sex friends in every one of the aforementioned activities except two. They communicated online and had a serious argument or conflict more often with opposite- than same-sex friends. Same-sex friends were far more likely than opposite-sex friends to compete with one another, to share clothes, and to eat, work out, watch television, listen to music, and shop together. The only topic of conversation that respondents reported as occurring more frequently among opposite- than same-sex friends was relationship with one another. Same-sex friends were much more likely to talk about sports, politics, music, classes, personal matters, and the opposite sex.

For the year, 43 percent of respondents reported that they were intimately or romantically involved. From fall to spring, this percentage increased somewhat, from 39 to 48 percent, and there was a marked increase in the percentage of romantic partners who were Holy Cross students, from 20 to 70 percent. The average length of romantic relationships was a little less than three years, although one-quarter of respondents had known their partner for less than a year. First- and second-year students were less likely than third- or fourth-year students to report that they were romantically involved, but academic class had no effect on whether the partner was a Holy Cross student or the length of the relationship.

Satisfaction with Friendships
We asked different questions about friendship satisfaction in the fall and spring. In answer to the question, “In general, how satisfied are you with your friendships at this time?” 77 percent of fall respondents said that they were “very satisfied” and another 22 percent said they were “somewhat satisfied.” A similarly high percentage of spring respondents expressed satisfaction with their relationship with their closest friend at Holy Cross. On a seven-point scale, with 1 = not satisfied and 7 = very satisfied, 56 percent of respondents assigned a 7 and another 36 percent assigned a 6 to their general satisfaction with their friendship. Respondents also highly rated their satisfaction with the material and emotional support provided by their friend (mean rating = 5.8 for both questions) and with the socializing they did with their friend (6.2). Women tended to be more satisfied than men and upper-class students more satisfied than first-year students with friends’ material and emotional support; otherwise, there were no gender or class differences.

Finally, respondents in the spring survey also reported high levels of social support and generally low levels of social conflict in their relationships with Holy Cross friends. Nearly 90 percent of respondents, for example, reported that their friend “really cares” about them and that they can rely on their friend for help with a serious problem. About three-quarters of respondents said their friend never made too many demands on them and never let them down; on the other hand, one-half of respondents said that their friend had “irritated” them or “gotten on their nerves” and two-fifths said their friend had criticized them at least a few times in the past two weeks. As expected, social support was directly associated and social conflict inversely associated with friendship satisfaction: as social support increased, satisfaction increased, and as social conflict increased, satisfaction decreased.

The 2004-2005 surveys revealed several interesting patterns of friendships among Holy Cross students. College clearly is a transitional phase in the social relationships of young people, as friendship networks shift from “back home” to the campus. The shift occurs gradually. In their first semester, the majority of students’ four closest friends were people they met in grade school or high school, but by their fourth year, the majority were fellow Holy Cross students. Even then, however, “best friends” tended not to be fellow students, but rather friends with whom they have had a lasting relationship of seven years on average.

Friendships at Holy Cross formed most commonly in the residence halls, supporting the proposition that proximity is a powerful predictor of whether two people become friends. Also supporting another consistent finding, students tended to form friendships with those who are similar to them. Besides gender and race, friends at Holy Cross were mostly from the same academic class. Also reflecting similar interests, sizeable percentages of friends were in the same campus groups, were teammates, and were taking a class together.

The findings also suggest the importance of friendship in the lives of Holy Cross students. They reported relatively large numbers of friends whom they could visit at any time or talk with openly; they expressed high levels of satisfaction with their friendships; and they reported spending a great deal of time with their friends—an average of six hours per weekday with their closest friend. In fact, students spend more time socializing with their friends than they do in class or in formal extracurricular activities.

Finally, while friendship is important to both men and women, there are gender differences in friendship patterns. Women reported a smaller network of friends, and men and women engage in different, somewhat sex-typed activities and conversations with friends. In general, women were more apt to engage in conversations with friends and to discuss more personal topics, whereas men were more likely to pursue various activities with their friends.


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