Popularity pays because those who learn to play the game in high school are figuring out what they need to know to succeed when they enter the workplace.
According to a new study released this week, those in the top fifth of the high school popularity pyramid garnered a 10% wage premium nearly 40 years after graduation, compared to those in the bottom fifth.
The study was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Its authors say they don’t view popularity as an “innate personality trait.” Instead, popularity pays because those who learn to play the game in high school are figuring out what they need to know to succeed when they enter the workplace. The report suggests schools may want to join their academic mission with one that helps students build their social skills.
Quantifying something that is as ephemeral as popularity is a tricky proposition for the researchers. Their findings rests on a model that relies on a survey of student connections called the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has been running for more than 50 years. The Wisconsin data is important because it allows the researchers to understand the direction of friendship. The researchers are able to see the web of relationships and determine who is actually popular, rather than who perceives themselves to be so.
The paper said the ability to form friendships rests on a series of expected factors. The authors find a “positive association between a warm early family environment” and one who is well liked among students. They also find the students they studied tended to associate with those similar to themselves.
What’s more, the study found “relatively older and smarter students are more popular, while relative family income status plays only a minor role.”
High school popularity is an important concept because it is at that time that students are increasingly turning their attention from older authority figures to one another. The students that fare well under this consideration are starting to show the skills that will serve them well when they move out into the world and fend for themselves.
“Social interactions within the group of classmates provide the bridge to the adult world as they train individual personalities to be socially adequate for the successful performance of their adult roles,” the researchers wrote.
The paper suggested that when schools try to prepare their students for successful lives, a purely academic focus might not be enough. “Policies that focus on promoting integration in schools and on developing social competencies may be a fruitful way of promoting success in life,” the researcher wrote.
Photo credit: International Business Times