Sociology, Department of


First Advisor

Robin G. Gauthier

Second Advisor

Julia McQuillan

Date of this Version


Document Type



Kelly, Grace M. 2023. "A Case for Friendship: a Mixed Methods Investigation of Close Friendships in Adulthood." Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Sociology, Under the Supervision of Professor Julia McQuillan & Robin G. Gauthier. Lincoln, Nebraska: July, 2023

Copyright © 2023 Grace M. Kelly


Social connections profoundly impact mental and physical health, identity development, and overall well-being. The landscape of personal relationships has changed dramatically over the past decades. Formalized connections and older social structures are evolving (Smock and Schwartz 2020). Loneliness and social isolation are at epidemic proportions and rising, posing widespread societal consequences (Buecker et al. 2021; Cacioppo and Cacioppo 2018). Sociologists have studied relationships like kinship and romantic partnership extensively but have devoted substantially less attention to friendship as a means of providing connection (Eve 2002). My dissertation investigates the importance of platonic friendship bonds in adulthood and explores how these relationships are sustained across the lifespan within people’s wider social networks.

In this study, I conducted semi-structured interviews and collected ego network data from adults aged 21 to 86 with self-reported important friendships (N=43). I use the life course perspective (Elder 1998) and symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1969) as theoretical backgrounds to explore the structural, cultural, and affective nature of friendships. These theories help demonstrate the ways in which our cultural understanding and valuation of friendship are shaped by available language and societal norms. In my first chapter, I discuss patterns in how people defined friendship and

describe the purpose and value of friendship across study members’ lives. In the second chapter, I examine change and consistency in friendships over the life course, using the concept of turning points (Baxter and Buchanan 2015; Hutchison 2005). In the final chapter, I use mixed methods analysis (interviews and ego networks) to contextualize friendships within participants’ broader social worlds.

Sociological research has focused on many types of interpersonal relationships (in organizational settings, social movements, and the workplace, as well as in romantic, familial and adolescent peer contexts). This dissertation demonstrates that friendship is also a meaningful form of connection in adulthood, and is a dimension of social life deserving of inclusion in mainstream sociology. The combined findings of my chapters deepen our understanding of this relationship type, advance the sociological literature on friendships across the life course, and offer avenues for future research on platonic social connections.

Advisors: Julia McQuillan and Robin G. Gauthier

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