Social Life Struggles of Women in their 20s and 30s

What social life problems can women expect to face in their 20s and 30s?

Over 6 months, we asked 249 women to rate how motivated they were to improve 21 different areas of their social lives.

When we compared the results between different age groups we made 7 surprising findings that we present in this article.

Why are these findings new and important?

This is the first time women’s social life struggles and motivations have been tracked in such detail. It gives new insight into women’s challenges that previous research missed out on.

SocialSelf has 55 000 female readers per month, and we wanted to know what struggles they face in their social lives. Women are traditionally underrepresented in studies.(9, 10, 11, 12). We found no previous studies on women’s social life struggles. This motivated us to raise awareness about the topic.

What are the key findings?

#1: Women struggle the most to find like-minded friends in their early 20s
#2: Women entering their 20s struggle 69% more to keep in touch with friends
#3: Women entering their 20s change the way they date
#4: After their mid-20s, women struggle LESS to keep in touch with friends
#5: Mid-20s to mid-30s is when women are the most motivated to work with shyness, anxiety, and self-esteem
#6: Women are most motivated to be charismatic after their mid-20s
#7: Women struggle the most with toxic people after their mid-30s

How do we measure struggles?

We looked at what percentage of women chose “Very Motivated” for each struggle. We then compared age groups to find differences.

Learn more about how we conducted the research here.

Social life struggles women face as they enter their early 20s

In the diagram below, you see the changes in what women struggle with before and after the age of 18.

A longer bar means a bigger change between the two groups.

Women's social life struggles between age 14-17 and 18-23As we can see, the bars stretch more toward women in the age group 18-23. In other words, women are more motivated to improve these areas after 18.

Let’s look closer at some of these findings.

Finding #1: Women struggle the most to find like-minded friends in their early 20s

Women very motivated to find like minded friendsWomen entering their 20s are 66% more motivated to be better at finding like-minded (compared to women at age 14-17).

Why this could be:

  1. In our early 20s, we start wanting more out of our relationships. In our teens, many were content to have someone to watch movies with and have fun with. But by our early 20s, we crave deeper connections with therapeutic qualities.(3)
  2. When we transition from adolescence to early adulthood, our personality develops and changes. This personality development also affects our relationships.(4,5)
  3. When we start losing some of our childhood friends because of college/work/relationships, it becomes more important to find new friends we can connect with.

Recommendation based on this finding:

If you’re about to enter your 20s, be prepared to reach out of your ordinary friend circle to find like-minded people you can connect with. We’re more likely to find like-minded people in groups related to our interests.(6) Ask yourself what you think is fun and interesting, and look for meetups and groups based on those interests.

Psychologist Dr Linda L Moore comments

Dr Linda L MooreOnce individuals leave high school and/or college, the “traditional meeting ground” — where there is much in common with the people you encounter, the chance for social connection changes dramatically.

Other than the work environment, the groups of people who are more like-minded are not built into the environment. They must be created, orchestrated, energetically pursued. So if work environments don’t provide connection, the majority of young people have to use their own creative “juice.”

Dr Linda L Moore, author and licenced psychologist in Kansas City, MO.

Finding #2: Women entering their 20s struggle 69% more to keep in touch with friends

Women at age 18-23 are 69% more motivated to better keep in touch with friends than women at age 14-17.

Women very motivated to better keep in touch with friendsWomen entering their 20s struggle 69% more to keep in touch with friends

Why this could be:

  1. 18-23 is the typical age to go to college and meet new people or start new jobs. These changes of environment makes keeping in touch more of a challenge.
  2. As our personality and interests evolve and we form a new social circle, we lose touch with some friends in our old social circle.(1)

Recommendation based on this finding:

  1. If you’re in your late teens or early twenties, be prepared that you might lose touch with some of your old friends.
  2. Invest time in getting to know new people. Join groups that you are interested in. Take chances to socialize. In other words, practice being outgoing.
  3. Do you have old friendships that you cherish? Make a conscious effort to maintain those.
  4. You don’t need to meet physically. A monthly call can maintain a friendship.

Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW comments

During a major transition, such as the transition from school to the workforce, many women are likely to find it more difficult to keep in touch with friends. It takes much more effort to stay in touch with friends when you’re entering a new phase of your life and your friends are busy with other activities.

The increased isolation can take a toll on women’s mental health as social activity provides a positive buffer against stress.

Amy Morin LCSW (Not related to the article author.) Psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do

Finding #3: Women entering their 20s change the way they date

Dating vs talking to someone you're attracted toWomen become 16 percent LESS motivated to improve their conversation skills with someone they’re attracted to. At the same time, they become 37% MORE motivated to improve their dating skills.

At first sight, this looks like a paradox.

Why this could be:

  1. In our teens, it’s common to find our romantic partners in our close proximity (School, free-time interests, etc). We develop crushes on these people and want to improve our ability to talk with them.
  2. In our 20s, we want more from our relationships, romantic, and platonic. To accomplish this, we need to look for partners past the close proximity.(7) This builds motivation to improve our dating skills.

Recommendation based on this finding:

There are several ways to succeed with dating challenges. We recommend this TED-talk by the award-winning author Amy Webb.

Behavioral psychologist Jo Hemmings comments

Jo HemmingsJust at the moment women become more serious in their intent to have a meaningful relationship, rather than just casual dating, they often find that they are less motivated to improve their conversational skills with someone they are attracted to.

This lack of motivation can be attributed to a period of transition between wanting to make an impression and get on with people in our ‘awkward’ teens and feeling that we shouldn’t have to still be working on that when we are in our 20’s.

From my coaching experience, this motivation to improve their conversational skills kicks back in for those women who are still single in their 30’s alongside a desire to improve their dating skills.

Jo Hemmings, behavioral psychologist.

Social life struggles women face in their mid-20s to mid-30s

Women's social life struggles between 18-23 and 24-35

As you can see, the diagram leans slightly to the right. This means that women’s social life challenges continue to grow a bit as they move into their mid-20s and 30s.

Let’s look at what this means.

Finding #4: After their mid-20s, women struggle LESS to keep in touch with friends

Women very motivated to better keep in touch with friendsIn Finding #2, we saw how women in their early 20s are very motivated to keep in touch with friends. However, women in their mid 20s to mid 30s are now 30% less motivated to do so.

Why this could be:

  1. Age 18-23 is a tumultuous time: New interests, schools, jobs, and friends makes keeping in touch a bigger challenge and a bigger priority.
  2. For many, the age 24-35 is the time of settling down: A full-time job, stable relationships and families.

Recommendation based on this finding:

It can be dangerous to let a partner or close family fulfill all your social needs, if it means forsaking other friendships. According to this survey each new romantic relationship makes us lose on average two friends.

Consciously make an effort to keep in touch with friends, even if you don’t feel as motivated to do this as when you were younger.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson comments

Dr Sue JohnsonWomen have higher levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone also associated with qualities such as empathy. This quality has been demonized in women – they have been called too “needy” or too “enmeshed” with others for years – but in fact we are coming to terms with how healthy this quality is.

Research is informing us of just how poisonous emotional isolation and loneliness is for human beings.

The new science of adult bonding teaches us to honor women’s perspective.

Dr Sue Johnson is the author of Hold Me Tight. She’s a clinical psychologist, researcher and professor focusing on adult attachment.

Finding #5: Women struggle more to improve shyness, anxiety, and self-esteem in their mid-20s to mid-30s

How women's shyness, self-esteem, social anxiety changes over timeWomen aged 24-35 struggle more to improve self-esteem, shyness and social anxiety. For example, they are 38% more motivated to improve their shyness compared with women aged 18-23.

Why this could be:

In our mid-20’s, it becomes clear how factors like shyness, social anxiety, charisma and self-esteem affects our life opportunities.(8)

We strive for self-improvement and self-actualization. We want to leave a good impression on employees, colleagues, and supervisors to make a career. We need to take initiatives and make decisions in a way we didn’t have to in school. Working on shyness, self-esteem, and social anxiety becomes even more important to have a fulfilling life.

In early adulthood self-awareness increases(13) and with that, we learn what traits we need to work on.

Recommendation based on this finding:

Guide and help resources on how to overcome social anxiety:

Psychotherapist Jodi Aman comments

Psychotherapist Jodi AmanBy their 20s, women are sick of feeling less than, being pressured by society, and thinking they are “not good enough”. They want to find a new way to define themselves.

In their 20s, they are often out of school – where they were surrounded by peers – and are now in contexts with many age groups. With this diversity, they can let go of the worry about belonging, and begin to focus in their own abilities.

Even starting small gives them a sense of empowerment, and they are encouraged to continue.

Jodi Aman, psychotherapist, TED-talker and author

Finding #6: Women are most motivated to be charismatic after their mid-20s

Women very motivated to be charismatic

Being charismatic is 38% more important for women aged 24-35 compared to women aged 18-23.

This finding puzzled our team at first, then we also compared female students and those who were employed. As it turns out, charisma becomes important when you get a job.

Social life challenges of studying women versus women who are employed

Charisma (marked in brighter green) is more important for employed women. (Together with dealing with toxic people, dating skills, and becoming more popular)

Why this could be:

This diagram shows how women become ~14% more motivated to be charismatic when they have a job compared to being a student. (And 28% more motivated to become more popular.)

This leads us to believe that charisma and popularity is something people find important for their career.

We believe charisma is most desirable when we can influence employees, colleagues, and supervisors to vouch for us.

Recommendation based on this finding:

Here’s a guide with 9 ways to improve your charisma written by Ph.D. Ruth Blatt

How women’s challenges change after their mid-30s

Women's social life struggles between age 24-35 and 36-60When we move beyond our mid-30s, we see massive changes in motivation to improve socially.

For the first time, the diagram is heavy on the left side. This means that overall, women aged 36-60* are less motivated to improve on the challenges we measured. Well, except for one thing: They’re more motivated than ever to deal with toxic people.

*We limited the upper age to 60 years as there were too few responders over 60 to reach statistical significance.

Psychiatrist Denise McDermott, M.D., comments

Dr Denise McDermott“In our teen years we are sociological hard wired for approval from others and from an evolutionary standpoint to attract the best mate. As we age our self worth is determined more by our internal mindset and less on external factors and approval from others.

The insightful data in this article shows the evolution over time of women caring less about what others think and valuing their own sense of self worth with a mature desire to problem solve in long-standing relationships, even the most challenging ones.”

Denise McDermott, M.D. Adult and Child Board Certified Psychiatrist. Website

Finding #7: Women struggle the most with toxic people after their mid-30s

Women motivated to better deal with toxic peopleWomen over 35 were overall much less motivated to deal with the social challenges we measured, compared to women aged 24-35. However, they were 28% more motivated to be better at dealing with toxic people.

Why this could be:

  1. After 35, our social lives tend to be more stable. The trajectory of our career is set for most of us. This lessens the urgency of dealing with most social life challenges.
  2. However, this stable social life also has the downside that it’s harder to avoid toxic people: The father- or mother in law, the long-term colleague or someone in the extended family.
  3. As we mature and grow, we are more likely to recognize patterns of behavior over time, and want more from the relationships we have that maybe fall short.

Recommendation based on this finding:

Invest time in your relationships throughout life, even if you have a spouse. This helps you off-load the burden of toxic relationships.

As we see in finding #4, women in their mid-20s get less motivated to keep in touch with friends.

It’s important to maintain friendships to have a supportive social circle as we grow older.

If you have a toxic person around you that you aren’t able to distance yourself from there are strategies that can help.

Professor of Psychology, Dr Ramani Durvasula, comments

Dr. Ramani DurvasulaAs expectations around relationships shift, and technology impacts how we relate, understanding social relationships is an evolving area, especially for women.

The results of this survey suggest that young women, who are now more likely to move away from their families to pursue educations and careers, may be experiencing associated struggles with finding “their tribe” of like-minded friends, and maintaining social contacts.

The 20’s and 30’s are decades when socializing is highly incentivized for women who are likely dating, may not yet have children, and are developing professional identities. Two findings from these data that do give pause is the potential “pressure” on women to be charismatic – with women at this age group feeling more motivated to be “charismatic” – something that may not always be congruent with a given woman’s personality style.

It also speaks to the valuation of this “style” by society, and may not always be something that actually does cement close social relationships. And not surprisingly, women over 35 are reporting that they are breaking more of a sweat to deal with toxic people.

Sadly, we are living in an era in which interpersonal toxicity appears to be on the rise, entitlement is normalized, and incivility is not unexpected. Toxic people are everywhere, and the older a woman gets, the more likely her network has expanded to include extended family, in-laws, more co-workers, and perhaps even people affiliated with children (e.g. other parents). It may also be that our patience starts to wear thin as we become older, have more demands, less time, and may be less willing to suffer fools.

Women do tend to rely on social networks, cultivate them and maintain them more than men. This may relate to gender roles, neurochemistry, and socialization.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, Professor of Psychology. | TED-talk | @DoctorRamani

Psychologist Dr Linda L Moore comments

Dr Linda L MooreAcross the board, women of all ages have the powerful negative of being taught to “be nice.”

There is little that is more destructive to building relationships, and just as important, understanding ourselves, than using “being nice” as the basis for connection. NICE make us “disappear.”

It’s superficial and as far from real as most people get. Being nice means putting the other person’s wants and needs and feelings first — vs on an even playing field — so the real relationship with SELF or the OTHER can’t truly grown.

Being kind and caring and generous instead of nice keeps the individual in the interaction and makes it REAL. However, the suggestion to quit being nice is challenging when most hear they SHOULD BE from the age or 3 or 4.

Dr Linda L Moore, author and licenced psychologist in Kansas City, MO.

How we made the study

We surveyed 249 women from 22 countries who’ve indicated that they want to improve their social lives.

We excluded responses from non-westernized countries in order to find more clear trends in the data.

These are the countries our participants were from:

Distribution of women between countriesThe respondents were asked to rate how motivated they were to improve 21 social life challenges.

They chose between

  1. Not motivated
  2. Somewhat motivated
  3. Motivated
  4. Very motivated

We counted all “Very motivated” for each age cohort and divided that with the number of people in that cohort

Age cohorts were chosen so that each cohort had at least 60 participants to improve statistical significance.

These are the age cohorts we used:

  • 14-17
  • 18-23
  • 24-35
  • 36-60

About the researchers

David Morin

David MorinI’ve been writing about social interaction since 2012. Perhaps you’ve seen my advice in publications like Business Insider and Lifehacker.

A few years ago, I probably looked successful on the surface.

I had started an import business and turned it into a multi-million dollar company. (Now owned by the Swedish concern MEC Gruppen.)

24 years old, I was nominated “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” in my home state.

But, I didn’t feel successful. I still had a hard time enjoying socializing and being authentic. I still felt awkward and off in conversations.

I committed to building my social confidence, becoming great at making conversation and bonding with people.

8 years, hundreds of books and thousands of interactions later, I was ready to share with the world what I’ve learned.

Studying social interaction is my passion. That’s why I’m happy to present these findings about women’s social life challenges.

B. Sc Viktor Sander

B. Sc. Viktor SanderI want to thank B. Sc Viktor Sander for his advisory role during this project. Viktor Sander is a behavioral scientist (University of Gothenburg, Sweden), specialized in social psychology.

He’s been working with research on social interaction for more than a decade. He has also coached several hundred men and women in social life issues.

Without him, this project would never have been possible.

Show references +

David Morin is the founder of SocialSelf. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments