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Intergenerational friendships of older adults: why do we know so little about them?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 August 2017

School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
Address for correspondence: Catherine Elliott O'Dare, School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College, College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland E-mail:


Intergenerational projects bringing together older adults and younger adults are increasingly common, but there is little research on unstructured, naturally occurring interaction, and in particular friendship between different generations. The aim of this article is to interrogate why we know so little about adult intergenerational friendship. A systematic literature search on this topic, covering a 30-year period, yielded only six articles which satisfied the inclusion criteria. This prompted us to examine how the topics of intergenerational friendship and friendship in old age have been approached in the literature to date. We argue that the paucity of research on intergenerational friendship reflects the focus of existing research on homophily, and consequently friendships among older or younger adults; and that this in turn reflects a social construction of older adults as unsuited to friendship with younger adults. Investigations of intergenerational friendship can help challenge the images and models of ageing and older adults that both research and societies currently operate with, and are constrained by. We conclude by calling for research that explores the views and experiences of older adults as parties to intergenerational relationships that are non-kin, chosen and based on mutual enjoyment.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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