Bad news for the geeks who've spent their high school years in a corner playing chess or sheltered in a dark room playing World of Warcraft plotting to take over the world: a new study revealed that the popular kids will still be winning the race even after school.
While academic nerds have often been encouraged by teachers and parents that success later in life means that they'll get the last laugh, a new study published by the National Bureau of Economics found that popularity in high school is essential to making it in the real world.
Researchers tracked more than 10,300 Wisconsin high school students who graduated in 1957 to adulthood. Investigators asked participants to write down three people who they considered their closest friends, and the names of the people that were listed the most often were considered the most popular.
"We investigate these questions [about the impact of high school social standing] using an objective measure of popularity derived from sociometric theory: the number of friendship nominations received from schoolmates, interpreted as a measure of early accumulation of personal social capital," wrote study authors.
Researchers led by Gabriela Conti, from the Harris School of Public Policy at The University of Chicago and Gerrit Mueller from Germany's Institute of Employment Research found that those who were rated as most popular retained their appeal in the marketplace and earned on average 2 percent more 35 years down the line than their nerdy counterparts. Researchers compared the difference "is roughly 40 percent of the return accruing to one more year of education," even after accounting for factors like school quality, family background or cognitive ability.
Additionally, moving up the social ladder from a reject at the bottom 20 percent to a star in the top 20 percent would translate into a 10 percent wage increase later in life.
Researchers said that they don't see popularity as an "innate personality trait". They believe that popularity pays because people who learn to be likeable in high school are also figuring out what they need to know to succeed when they enter the adult workplace.
Conti and her team said that not only do the connections popular kids made in school help broaden their professional network in the long run, the social skills they learned in high school may have enabled them to better adapt in working environments.
Researchers said that high school social interactions "train individual personalities to be socially adequate for the successful performance of their adult roles. Consistent with our view, we interpret our measure of popularity as a measure of the stock of social skills of a particular individual."
Some other trends found in the research showed that cool kids typically came from "warm family environments," and contrary to popular belief excelled in school.
In light of the latest findings, researchers suggested that educators implement school policies to promote social integration as "developing social competencies may be a fruitful way of promoting success in life."