Gender, Grade, and Relationship Differences in Emotional Closeness within Adolescent Friendships

By Johnson, H. Durell | Adolescence, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Gender, Grade, and Relationship Differences in Emotional Closeness within Adolescent Friendships


Johnson, H. Durell, Adolescence


From early to late adolescence, intimacy increases in importance within adolescent friendships (Berndt, 1982; Collins & Repinski, 1994; Hunter & Youniss, 1982; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998; Shulman, Levy-Shift, Kedem, & Alon, 1997). According to Sullivan (1953), male and female adolescents develop friendships to meet their intimacy needs (e.g., mutual empathy, love, and security), and achieving intimacy within same- and cross-sex relationships outside of the family environment is an integral aspect of adolescent development. Research indicates that same- and cross-sex friendships become more intimate as adolescents age. Further, studies examining gender differences in adolescent reports of intimacy indicate that females (1) develop more intimate friendships, (2) stress the importance of maintaining intimacy, and (3) expect more intimacy in their friendships than do males (Clark & Ayers, 1993; Clark & Bittle, 1992; Foot, Chapman, & Smith, 1977). Despite these age and gender differences in adolescent reports of friendship intimacy, relatively few studies have compared grade and gender differences in intimacy in same- and cross-sex friendships. Therefore, the current study examined differences in male and female early, middle, and late adolescents' reports of intimacy with same- and cross-sex friends.

Relationship Differences in Adolescent Reports of Intimacy

Adolescents spend more time with their same-sex friends than with cross-sex friends and prefer the company of same-sex friends to that of cross-sex friends during early and middle adolescence (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Larson & Richards, 1991; Richards, Crowe, Larson, & Swarr, 1998). Cross-sex friendships are not as supportive as same-sex friendships during adolescence (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992), and adolescents experience more positive emotions while they are with and are thinking about their same-sex friends (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Richards et al., 1998). Same-sex friendships are perceived as more intimate than cross-sex friendships during early adolescence because cross-sex friendships are not as developed as same-sex friendships (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987). However, intimacy with members of the opposite sex increases as cross-sex friendships become more important during late adolescence.

Grade and Gender Differences in Adolescent Reports of Intimacy

Same-sex friends. Research examining adolescent reports of intimacy with same-sex friends does not indicate differences across age (Sharabany, Gershoni, & Hoffman, 1981). Clark-Lempers, Lempers, and Ho (1991) note that early, middle, and late adolescents do not differ in their reports of intimacy with same-sex friends. However, according to Buhrmester and Furman (1987) and Lempers and Clark-Lempers (1992), females report more intimate same-sex friendships than do males and that the level of intimacy within adolescent males' friendships does not approach the level within females' friendships, although males report a desire for intimacy in their same-sex friendships.

Cross-sex friends. Grade differences in adolescent reports of intimacy indicate that cross-sex friends become more intimate with age (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987; Fischer, Munsch, & Greene, 1996). Research examining gender differences in intimacy indicates that cross-sex friendships are more important to female adolescents than to male adolescents (Blyth, Hill, & Thiel, 1982). Further, findings from Bukowski and Kramer (1986) and Sharabany et al. (1981) indicate that adolescent females experience higher levels of intimacy and emotional closeness in their cross-sex friendships than do adolescent males.

Current Study

Grade and gender differences in adolescent reports of intimacy within their friendships are reported in the literature; however, there are several limitations associated with these findings. First, previous research has generally examined differences in adolescent intimacy within either same-sex or cross-sex friendships.

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Gender, Grade, and Relationship Differences in Emotional Closeness within Adolescent Friendships
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