Annoying but True: Popular Kids Earn More Money

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Are you ready to hear a fundamentally annoying and unfair thing? (Or I suppose it could also be an affirming and confidence-boosting thing, if you had a different high school experience than I did.) The popular kids from high school make more money even 40 years after the fact, according to a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. So, yes, popularity does matter, in exactly the way you always feared.

Maybe you (like me) were one of the optimistic nerds who liked to think that the post-high school world would reward things like smarts or kind-heartedness more than social skills. Or maybe you had a more goth-y outlook about the whole thing. In any case, it doesn’t matter what you thought:  the Socs are winning now, just like they won back then, just like they’ll win forever. Or if you prefer the gentler wording of the study’s authors, popular kids are those who’ve learned how to play the game of high school — and the social skills they continue to hone presumably serve them well in the businessplace as well. (Jerks.)

According to the study, which used data from the 50-plus year Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, family income wasn’t a particularly good predictor of popularity; what mattered more was a warm home environment. Students who were smarter and/or older than their peers were also more well-liked. The most popular students (those in the top fifth) earned an average of 10 percent more than the least popular group several decades post-graduation; no word (yet) on whether sitting at the most elite cafeteria table offers an even greater wage-premium.

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