Remember those A-listers in high school who treated you like a piece of furniture? They probably hurt your feelings, but you licked your wounds by telling yourself that you'd eventually be more successful. After all, you were a top student who took a ridiculous load of A.P. classes, devoted untold hours to Model U.N., and won buckets of debate trophies. Meanwhile, the most challenging thing they did was plan for homecoming.
Too bad life isn't always just. It turns out that unless you're nerd extraordinaire Mark Zuckerberg, those who are less socially adept lose out to the popular kids in the game of life.
Using data from a survey of over 10,000 men and women who graduated from a Wisconsin high school in 1957, researchers from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study find that popularity pays—literally. Reports the Wonkblog of The Washington Post:
A new working paper may throw some cold water on any “Revenge of the Nerds” fantasies: It finds that more popular high school students earn more than their less-liked counterparts— even decades after graduation.
Looking at how social characteristics affect career over the decades, the researchers find that "if a student moved from the 20th percentile of popular up to the 80th percentile, it would yield a salary 10 percent higher—40 years later."
But here's the really depressing part for all you superachievers: The popular kids in high school have the career edge, even after factoring in "family background, school quality, cognitive ability, and adult personality traits." Being adept at social interactions in high school “trains individual personalities to be socially adequate for the successful performance of their adult roles,” say the researchers.
So that means that if you went to Swarthmore and then Harvard Law, played chess at the master's level, and even acquired a modicum of social finesse in adulthood, you will still play second fiddle to the guy who led the pep rally squad.
But those in the legal profession might find solace in the fact that it's not a field populated by many high school cheerleaders. (Don't you have a hard time visualizing H. Rodgin Cohen, Evan Chesler, or Marty Lipton as part of a human pyramid? Ted Olson, however, I can see.) Happily, law is one of the few professions where just a smidgen of charm can go a long way. So work on it.
The not-so-good news: That snotty cheerleader you despised is outearning you—and always will. Worse, she is the client you're desperately trying to bag. And she's still treating you like a piece of furniture.
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