Have children, lose friends. That’s the message highlighted in some reports about research on how neighbourly and friendly British people are. And it is not only parents who are missing out on friendship at a time when people boast hundreds of friends on social networking sites.

A survey of 2167 adults commissioned by an association representing co-operative enterprises finds that “having children equates to having less close friends — statistically, after the first child, you lose half a close friend for every extra child you have”.

On the other hand, people with two children know their neighbours best of any type of household in the UK. Then again, “the more kids you have the more nosey you think the neighbours are”.

Well, what to make of that?

To take the point about nosey neighbours first: the report, Cooperative Streets, notes that “children being a nuisance” is the third most common complaint about neighbours — after noise and bad behaviour, and before pets. Unruly children could provoke some “nosiness” as neighbours try to signal their discontent to the parents, but there could be a certain intolerance of kids’ noise in an ageing society.

As for losing close friends as you have more children, that would depend partly on how close they were in the first place. Quite likely you are going to lose touch with people you mainly went to the pub and clubbed with, especially if they remain single and childless. Parents with young children are pretty busy, especially if the mother is working part-time or even full-time, and they need the kind of helpful friendship that their own parents and family members are often most willing and able to provide.

Also, since so many British mothers are going out to work, even while their children are very young, they miss out on the coffee mornings and playgroups where their own mothers tended to make new friends in a less fraught era.

Of course, we don’t know what kinds of family structures the people in the poll belonged to. Single, including divorced mothers are likely to have less time for friends and be more isolated.

In fact family structure, along with mobility and work patterns could be a major factor in the general patterns the survey found. A similar study in 1982 found that nearly half the respondents believed they knew at least 11 neighbours and a quarter knew 20 or more, reports The Telegraph.

Now, even the most neighbourly Britons — those in Scotland — know an average of only 8.4 neighbours.

There has also been a decline, although less severe, in the number of friends, down from an average of 5.1 per person to 4.6.

This has been accompanied by a stark rise in loneliness. In 1982, 76 per cent of people said they never felt lonely, but this year the figure had fallen to just 32 per cent.

The author of the report, Ed Mayo, comments:

“People seem to have a wider circle of acquaintances and shallow friendships, particularly online, which cuts down the number to whom they feel really close.”

Apparently pensioners are the most neighbourly souls, and probably not many of them have Facebook pages.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet