Friendship Paradox

What is the Friendship Paradox?

The Friendship Paradox is a pretty interesting idea that tells us most people have not as many friends as their friends have. Imagine it like this: you count all of your friends and then ask each of them to count their friends. In the end, you would probably find out that on average, your friends listed more friends than you did. But how can that be? It isn’t a puzzle that doesn’t make sense or a trick. It’s a pattern that scientists have noticed happens a lot in groups of friends or networks, like at school or on social media. A guy named Scott L. Feld studied this back in 1991 and realized it happens because the people who have a lot of friends show up in more friend lists.

The Friendship Paradox also tells us about who is more ‘visible’ or noticed in a network based on how many friends they have. People with a big group of friends are like the big stars in a night sky, so when you’re just glancing around, they are the ones you’re most likely to see. That’s why in a big group of friends, it can seem like everyone else is more popular.

Examples of the Friendship Paradox

  • Example 1: In a class of students, Sarah has five close friends. When Sarah looks at each of her friends, she notices many of them have ten or more friends. This is an example of the Friendship Paradox because Sarah’s friends have more friends on average than she does, highlighting the paradox in a real-life social setting.
  • Example 2: On social media, Tom notices that his 100 friends have hundreds of friends themselves. This demonstrates the paradox because even though Tom has a good number of friends, the average number of friends his friends have is higher.
  • Example 3: A survey in a neighborhood shows that, on average, each person knows 50 people. However, when they looked closer, they realized a few individuals knew almost everyone, making the average go up. This is a clear case of the Friendship Paradox because the highly social people’s connections sway the average.
  • Example 4: Emily feels like she doesn’t know a lot of people at her school. She has seven good friends. When she thinks about it, most of her friends are on sports teams and know at least 20 other teammates. This is the Friendship Paradox at play, as Emily’s network is smaller compared to her more involved friends.
  • Example 5: During a company retreat, Alex realizes that although he’s friends with six colleagues, those same colleagues are also friends with almost everyone in the office, often around 30 other people. This is an example of the Friendship Paradox because Alex is less connected than his colleagues, which influences his perception of his own social circle.

Why is the Friendship Paradox Important

Understanding the Friendship Paradox is quite useful in our everyday life and in the bigger picture. For one, it helps us figure out why we might sometimes feel like we’re not as popular or as connected as others. It reminds us that it’s not because we’re less likable or interesting but because of the way social groups are structured.

In real-world situations, the Friendship Paradox can be important for how we share information and handle public health, just as we’ve seen with how viruses spread. Imagine trying to stop a flu outbreak at your school. If you wanted to make sure everyone knew how to stay healthy, you might start by telling the most connected people – the ones with the most friends – because they’ll tell the most people.

It also can be an eye-opener for how we look at social media. When we compare the number of friends or followers we have to others, we might feel behind. This concept teaches us that it’s not a fair comparison because of how networks work and that social media platforms are natural homes for the Friendship Paradox.


To wrap everything up, the Friendship Paradox isn’t saying that we have fewer friends because there’s something wrong with us. No, it’s showing us that in the big picture of how everyone knows each other, people with lots of friends can make our own lists of friends seem smaller than they really are. When we know about this paradox, we can better understand our own social lives and remember that numbers don’t tell the whole story about friendships and who we are. The Friendship Paradox isn’t about making us feel less than but about shining a light on the natural patterns in any group of friends or network, teaching us some pretty valuable lessons about life and society along the way.

Related Topics

Other concepts that are related to the Friendship Paradox help us understand social networks and human behavior better. Here are a few:

  • Six Degrees of Separation: This idea suggests that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. It’s like saying you can connect any two people by a chain of friends that’s no longer than six links.
  • Small World Phenomenon: Small world refers to the concept that despite the huge number of people in the world, the social distance between any two individuals is small. This is why sometimes you meet someone and realize you both know the same person, even if you’re from different places.
  • Social Network Analysis: This is a method used to map out social relationships and understand how information flows through networks. It’s a bit like drawing a map where the points are people and the lines are the friendships connecting them.