We posted a story this morning at The Daily Yonder (by my wife, Julie Ardery) on an interesting bit of research into what kind of "social ecology" helps foster diverse friendships. What the scholars found was that people living in a community with fewer people (in the study's case, a smaller college) had a wider variety of friendships than those who attended a large university.
The scholars (from Wellesly and the University of Kansas) wrote, "When opportunity abounds, people are free to pursue more narrow selection criteria [in forming friendships], but when fewer choices are available, they must find satisfaction using broader criteria.”
That was certainly our experience, when we moved from a large city to own and operate a weekly newspaper in a Texas town of 3,500. We now live in Austin, a metro area of 1.8 million and we don't have nearly the diversity of friendships that we enjoyed in our little town of Smithville.
The scholars found the "irony" of small communities — that they foster diverse relationships. You simply don't have a choice. In the larger university settings, people "will be able to choose among greater variety" and as a result they will be "able to match their interests and activities to partners more closely than individuals in the smaller colleges."
"This leads to a straightforward but ironic hypothesis," the scholars wrote. "Greater human diversity within an environment will lead to less personal diversity within dyads" (human pairs or friends).
Our memories of Smithville — and now this study — have us thinking that we need to move out of the big city in order to regain the diversity we had in a rural town.