It’s nice to think that popular kids reach their peaks in high school and that the geeks get theirs in real life. Unfortunately for you nobodies, rich geeks like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Marissa Mayer are the exception, not the rule. A new study concludes that once popular kids are earning more than the high school proletariat. Moreover, researchers found a wage-gap that matched the degree of between the least and most popular.
But here’s a big problem with the study: they define popularity like a bunch of dorks.
First, some background on the study. The Washington Post reports that researchers Gabriella Conti, Gerritt Mueller, Andrea Galeotti and Stephen Pudney looked at data from a study that started back in 1957. The study, called the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, followed some 10,000 women and men who graduated from Wisconsin high schools that year. More data has been collected from the study’s subjects over the years, including information about social class, earnings and career achievement.
Among the data points in the original survey hinged on friends. Each subject was asked to list the three people they considered their closest friends. This new crop of researchers, looking into the popularity-earnings connection, examined the friend data and categorized each of the named friends. Those who were named the most were considered in the highest popularity percentile. Those who were named the least were in the lowest. The middles were divided up into percentiles that reflected the frequency with which their names appeared.
Incomes were examined and poof! The most named (e.g. the most popular) made more money than the rest — an average of 2 percent more than the rest. If a student moved up in popularity, that also showed a salary increase.
But here’s the problem: researchers are defining “popularity” as those having the most friends, which, did we learn nothing from Brady Bunch/Facts of Life/90210/Dawson’s Creek, etc.? For popular kids, it’s lonely at the top! The most popular were never the ones with the most friends, they were simply the ones with the most admirers, the ones who wielded the most power, the ones with the most allure. To be listed as a friend, I would assume, you’d have to be approachable, available, you know … friendly.
What the researchers actually seemed to have found is that the more connected, networky, friendly and trustworthy you are, the more you’ll earn in life. Which makes perfect sense, right? The researchers even say something similar, as Ezra Klein reports in The Washington Post:
Social interactions in high school “train individual personalities to be socially adequate for the successful performance of their adult roles,” the researchers conclude. “Consistent with our view, we interpret our measure of popularity as a measure of the stock of social skills of a particular individual.”
The real headline should be something like “Nice Guys and Gals Finish First.”
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