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Good news for people who were unpopular in school

It’s not you, it’s your family, that tends to influence your place in the world later on – so says new study.

Image: family via Shutterstock

LAST YEAR, RESEARCHERS looking at a massive dataset following high school seniors in Wisconsin found that high school popularity was correlated with higher income later on.

It turns out that the effect might not be from popularity after all, but from family.

When you compare siblings, even if they vary significantly in popularity, they end up in about the same place.

That’s great news for the less popular younger siblings of the world.

In an NBER working paper, Yale University’s Jason Fletcher  reexamined the effect of high school popularity on earnings with a much broader dataset, they found about a 2 per cent income boost for each additional friend by age 35. But when comparing siblings and accounting for fixed family effects, that completely disappears.

The Wisconsin survey only allowed people to nominate 3 classmates as friends, so 60 per cent of respondents didn’t get any nominations. This dataset (from a national longitudinal survey) allows for up to 10, and includes a broader range of states and ages, making the result stronger.

This suggests that some combination of family life, genetics, and parenting has more of an effect on future income than high school popularity.

The earlier paper suggested that popularity was a good proxy for well developed social skills that might help people adjust to the workplace later, and the sort of strong network that helps advance a career.

What you learn at home and how you’re raised turns out to mean more.

Here’s the table showing the results. In the right most columns, when family effects are accounted for, the effect of popularity (In Degree) vanishes:

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NBER/Jason Fletcher

- Max Nisen

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