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The Power (and Health Benefits) of Female Friendships

By April 23, 2009

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Are female friends better for a woman's well-being than a husband?

An April 20, 2009 New York Times article focuses on the importance of friendships and social networks for overall health. It provides many examples of why women's connections to each other are so important, but the following fact from a breast cancer study stuck out:

In 2006, a study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. And notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend wasn’t associated with survival. Just having friends was protective.

Bella DePaulo, a visiting psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work focuses on single people and friendships, notes that in many studies, friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member. In the study of nurses with breast cancer, having a spouse wasn’t associated with survival.

The article notes that not much significant research has been done on the role of friendship in our lives, even though as Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, admits, "Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships."

Debba Haupert has been studying the power of female friendships for years. In an article for About.com, she points out that "women without strong social ties risk health issues equivalent to being overweight or a smoker." Yet at the same time a 2006 survey indicates that friendships are on the decline. Haupert observes that women who are not connected to other women miss out on much more than just casual conversation:

When we're isolated, we don't have each other to help us through tough situations like hurricanes or fires, financial struggles or relationship changes, sadness or cancer. Without communities of women, we often miss opportunities to be involved in our cities, to learn from each other, to empathize with other women and to share the benefits of laughter and a heart-felt hug.
You may not be dealing with cancer or a natural disaster, but many of us are facing hardships or reduced circumstances in this economy. Having a cup of coffee with a girlfriend, or reconnecting with someone you've lost touch with, are low-cost ways to lift your spirits and enjoy the benefits conferred by the power of female connections.

Photo © Stockbyte/Getty Images

Also read:
The Girlfriend Instinct - The Power of Female Friendships

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April 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm
(1) Anne Caroline Drake says:

Thanks, Linda. Good reminder.

April 29, 2009 at 2:15 pm
(2) Sandra Knopf says:

Women who need friends might try the Red Hat Society. It is all about friendship with other women.

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