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Being Popular in High School means High Paying Jobs

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Stereotypically speaking, what do the football captain and homecoming king have in common? In addition to being the most popular guys in school, they’ll most likely wind up making more money than their less-popular counterparts.

As movies like Mean Girls demonstrate, high school can be downright brutal if you’re not a member of the “in crowd.” Teachers and parents tell kids that things will be different down the road—that high school will become nothing but a distant memory.

Popular High School Students Have Higher Earning Potential

Even without adult reassurance, it might be tempting to assume that the class brains—all the mathletes, chess team captains, and debate club champs out there—will be the ones bringing home six-figure salaries, not the jocks and cheerleaders. After all, it takes smarts to make the big bucks! Look at Bill Gates, right?

But the aptly-titled “Popular,” a working paper by Gabriella Conti, Gerritt Mueller, Andrea Galeotti and Stephen Pudney published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, indicates that being admired by your peers during high school could very likely lead to higher wages later in life.

The researchers used data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a long-term study of over 10,300 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 that has been running for over 50 years, to study the effects of high school popularity on earning potential. Researchers have been following the group since the study’s inception; periodically checking in on social lives as well as career achievements. For “Popular,” data for men was used to avoid any discrepancies that may have come up due to lower numbers of women in the workforce.

In 1957, the students were asked to list the names of three people who they considered their closest friends. Students whose names were written down the most often were deemed the most popular because so many people considered them close friends, explains Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post.

Social Skills, Relationships Play a Role

Fast-forward thirty-five years and the popular students were earning 2 percent more money than their less-popular peers, nearly half of the wage difference that students generally accrue from an additional year of education.

Being popular in high school can save you an extra year of college or grad school? Not bad. The researchers also determined that students who moved from the 20th percentile to the 80th percentile of popularity could see as much as a 10 percent pay difference 40 years later.


The researchers determined that the social skills that students learn and perfect during high school may very well help them adapt easily in their work environments. It may also be “who you know”—high school relationships and friendships may help broaden professional networks as well as social circles, reports Business Insider.

In short, it seems as if the traits that make someone “likeable” during high school may carry over into the workplace, leading to career success and higher wages.

Read More:

7 Steps to Fabulous Friendships in College

Beating the First-Semester Blues: 4 Tips for Homesick Freshmen


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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