A new study on mobile phone usage, published in the Journal of Scientific Reports, suggests that women call their spouse more than any other person. This changes as their daughters become old enough to have children, after which they become the most important person in their mother’s life. The data also shows that, around their mid-30s, women start to switch the preference of their best friend from someone about their own age, so that by the time they are 45 a woman of a generation younger has become the “new best friend”.
Mobile phones open new doors for research
The results come from an analysis of the texts of mobile phone calls of three million people. The aim of the project was to find out how intimate relationships vary over a lifetime. This kind of anthropological study is normally very difficult to do because it is hard for researchers to get such a big picture of people’s lives. However, by looking at an at an extremely large mobile phone database, the researchers were able to track these changes extremely accurately.
The team wanted to find out how the gender preference of best friends, as defined by the frequency of the calling, changed over the course of a lifetime and differed between men and women. They found that men tend to choose a woman the same age as themselves – which the researchers presumed to be their girlfriend or wife – as a best friend much later in life than women do, and for a much shorter time. This occurs when they are in their early-30s, possibly during courtship, and stops after seven years or so. Women, however, choose a man of a similar age to be their best friend from the age of 20. He remains for about 15 years, after which time he’s replaced by a daughter.
Back to matriarchy
According to the study’s co-author, Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, UK, the investigation shows that pair-bonding is much more important to women than men. “It’s the first really strong evidence that romantic relationships are driven by women,” he said. “What seems to happen is that women push the ‘old man’ out to become their second best friend, and he gets called much less often and all her attention is focused on her daughters just at the point at which you are likely to see grandchildren arriving.” Prof Dunbar also claims that the findings suggest that human societies are moving away from a patriarchy back to a matriarchy.