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June 02, 2021

Does high school popularity forecast career success?

Back when you were in high school, chances are you fell into one of five groups.

A photo gallery of those potential stereotypes: Number one. Number two. Number three. Number four. Number five.

But that was high  school, right? We’ve always been told to throw out everything we knew in high school. For instance, we were often lectured, ‘Be nice to those nerds. They’ll be your boss someday.’

And, in some cases, that is surely correct. A guy probably considered a nerd in high school had a pretty big hand in the computer company that led to this site you’re reading now.1173688_high_school_woes

Yet can we negate everything? Does, somehow, the social pecking order of high school also forecast the professional pecking order of the career world?

A research paper from the Institute for Social and Economics Research suggests that, yes, it does.

According to the study – which measured popularity by asking people to list their friends from high school 35 years ago, then cross-referencing those lists with their current income – showed one additional friendship nomination was associated with a two per cent higher wage down the road.

Similarly, by the study’s account, if you shifted somebody from the “bottom fifth to the top fifth of the school popularity distribution (in other words, turning a social reject into a star),” that would be the equivalent of a 10 per cent wage advantage over their career.

You can learn more about how the research was done here, but there are surely some holes in the conclusions. For one, you’re asked to name your friends from high school decades before, which I’m sure could easily be skewed based on what happened to Friend X or Friend Y – personally or professionally – since high school ended.

But, then there might be some fire to this smoke. Certainly, increased self-confidence and people skills are offshoots of popularity, attributes that are quite valuable in the corporate world.

What do you think? Is there much to this report? Does high school popularity predispose you to professional success?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...