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Do Popular Kids Earn More Later in Life?


“Revenge of the Nerds” was a lie, according to a recent report from National Bureau of Economic Research. The popular kids in high school didn’t just make gym class a living hell: they’re likely to out-earn you post graduation, as well.

“We estimate that moving from the 20th to 80th percentile of the high-school popularity distribution yields a 10 percent wage premium nearly 40 years later,” says the report, which was written by professors at the University of Chicago and the University of Essex, as well an expert from the Institute of Employment Research.

The report was based on data from Wisconsin’s Longitudinal Study, which measured 10,000 high school seniors’ friendships by asking them to name their three closest friends. Over 35 years, the study examined patterns in popularity and success.

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The result?

“We find that the number of friendships nominated by a student (which measures in part a desire for popularity) has no effect on adult earnings. In contrast, actual popularity as measured by the number of friendship nominations that the student receives from his school mates has a sizable effect: the wage premium of additional social skills equivalent to a 1-unit increase in the expected number of friendship nominations at high school is 7 percent.”

In other words, as Alexander Abad-Santos at the Atlantic Wire puts it, “it helps to be everyone’s best friend.”

Lest nerds get too depressed, however, Abad-Santos also points out that the study only examined male, predominantly white students in one state. So we can still pretend that Booger is out there somewhere, running his own company and driving a really cool car.

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(Photo Credit: Northridge Alumni Bear Facts/Flickr)

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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