High School Popularity Linked to Financial Success

November 1, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Keep your friends close—especially the popular ones. 

According to a paper titled “Popularity,” from the National Bureau of Economic Research, popularity during high school leads to higher wages in adulthood.

The increase in social skills is associated with a 2% wage advantage 35 years later, which is roughly 40% of the return associated with one more year of education. The study took into account factors such as family background, school quality, cognitive ability, human capital, and adult personality traits and social capital. 

So why would being popular in high school increase the chances of having more money later in life? One possible explanation is that connections established in high school are maintained throughout life and can present job opportunities. A more plausible interpretation is that the popularity of a student among his schoolmates is a measure of his skill in building positive personal and social relationships and adjusting to the demands of a social situation.

Social interactions within a 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 study interprets the measure of popularity as a measure of the stock of social skills of a particular individual, rather than a measure of an innate personality trait. It is the productive skill itself that is rewarded in the labor market, rather than friendships per se.

The study is based on information about high school friendship relations collected from respondents to the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), who were asked to report the names of up to three best friends from their senior class in high school. The study report can be downloaded at http://www.nber.org/papers/w18475.