Economics Says The Revenge of the Nerds Is a Lie

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There's a study out there by the National Bureau of Economic Research which should strike fear in the heart of any dweeb patiently waiting for his Count of Monte Cristo moment. The study says those popular kids, like that no-good prom king who may or may not have made your high school life awful, will actually out-earn you because they're so freaking likable.

"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," reads the abstract to the work of Gabriela Conti (University of Chicago), Gerrit Mueller (Institute of Employment Research), Andrea Gaeotti (University of Essex) and Stephen Pudney (University of Essex). Simply put, being popular pays dividends. 

What these economic research nerds looked at was Wisconsin's Longitudinal Study, which surveyed one-third of Wisconsin's high school seniors (around 10,000 people), and the then-called friendship nominations—essentially the scientific version of voting for prom royalty, where you're supposed to name your three closest friends—for patterns 35 years later. And this is what they found:

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 toa 1-unit increase in the expected number of friendship nominations at high school is 7 percent. 

Essentially, these wonks found that being everyone's best friend helps. And it's a factor into what your boss thinks of you, and actually helps when it comes to getting paid. That makes sense, because having a good relationship with your boss and being well-liked by your peers, can't hurt. 

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What all that translates to, as The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff writes, is that "35 years down the road, the more popular students earned 2 percent more than their peers. That’s nearly half — 40 percent — of the wage differential that students accrue from an additional year of education." And that finding also affirms what this team of nerds found in earlier studies (they've been studying this for a while), "Shifting somebody from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of the school popularity distribution—in other words, turning a social reject into a star—would be predicted to yield him a 10 percent wage advantage," wrote the team back in 2009. 

Have some faith nerds because there are caveats to the study: WLS being predominantly white, that only men were studied (because of the "lower rate of labor force participation among women of the WLS generation"), that it's one state's high school seniors, and most of all that the prestige of being a smart nerd considered is worth more than any dollar amount.

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