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High school status means higher future wages

A 'popularity premium' of 2% arises decades later, says a study that followed 10,000 Wisconsin students.

October 23, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times

Good luck, band geeks.

A new report suggests that running with the in crowd in high school bodes well for future earnings potential.

Those considered popular in secondary school earned 2% more decades later than oddballs and nerds, enjoying a so-called popularity premium.

That's the finding based on data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which follows more than 10,000 people who graduated from high school in Wisconsin in 1957.

Forty years after graduation, those who were in the 80th percentile of the popularity gauge earned 10% more than their peers in the 20th percentile.

For popular students, "skill in building positive personal and social relationships and adjusting to the demands of a social situation" are likely to translate into good relationships with colleagues and clients in the workforce, according to the report.

Researchers deemed students to be popular based on how many of their cohorts listed them as friends. Older and smarter students, as well as those who hailed from a warm family environment, tended to rank high on the social totem pole.

But being able to host underage parties at fancy homes or swerve onto campus in a slick car didn't help much: Household wealth played "only a minor role" in popularity.

It's unclear whether queen bees enjoy the same wage boost from popularity — researchers limited their analysis to some 4,000 male respondents. They also didn't factor in the depth of the friendship.

And the report doesn't delve too deeply into personality traits, sidestepping the common trope of popular-guy-as-bully. But a separate report last year found that nice guys generally earn less than their meaner counterparts.

Gabriella Conti of the University of Chicago, Gerrit Mueller of the Institute for Employment Research, and Andrea Galeotti and Stephen Pudney of the University of Essex analyzed the data from the Wisconsin report.

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