Being Popular in School Pays Off

Filed under: Opinions

three girlsHave you ever wondered how the popular kids you went to school with fared later on in life? Did their natural ability to win friends and influence people lead to financial success in adulthood? Or did they end up flipping burgers for minimum wage while dreaming about their glory days?

According to a new study out of Essex University, there is a good chance those popular kids are doing quite well for themselves. The authors of the study set out to determine if having lots of friends in high school equated to higher earnings down the road. They looked at data from a 1975 survey of 4,000 men in which they were asked to name three of their closest friends from their 1957 high school class. By cross referencing who named who as a friend, they were able to determine who the popular kids were. They then tracked these same men through 2004 and noted their earnings. They determined that for each extra-close friend in high school, there was a 2 percent increase in earnings as an adult.

On the surface, the results seem to indicate that those who have a large social circle as teens will grow up to earn more money. But what about the friendless nerds who run the AV equipment and join the chess club? Aren't they they ones who are supposed to eventually outshine us all in the real world, where being smart matters more than being popular? According to Steven Levitt, co-author of the book "Freakonomics," being popular and being smart are not mutually exclusive:
[P]opularity is highly correlated with other traits that prove to be very valuable in the labor force. For instance, people with high I.Q.'s and who planned to go to college are much more popular in their data. People with high I.Q.'s and lots of years of education also earn higher wages.
Those who have high I.Q.'s can clearly benefit from also having a large circle of friends. Not only do popular kids know lots of people, and therefore have lots of connections that may come in handy in the workplace, they also are mastering a valuable skill early on.

"A workplace is a social setting. People have to manage each other and work in teams -- you can see why social skills would be helpful", says Professor Steve Pudney, co-author of the study.

While I find this study interesting, I can't help but wonder what the findings would be had they included girls in the data. I don't know what kids were like back in 1957, but in my experience boys and girls look at popularity quite differently. For a boy, being popular may mean having lots of people like you, but for a girl it often means having lots of people simply know who you are. When the social skills being developed involve more excluding than including, I suspect the end results are quite different.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.