School children with more friends earn more as adults, study claims

People who reported having a high number of close friends in secondary school later enjoyed 10 per cent higher earnings than their peers, the research found

Chris Green
Monday 30 March 2015 14:52
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The findings, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference today, suggest that after-school clubs, trips and other activities which allow pupils to interact and socialise with one another carry much greater benefits than previously thought.
The findings, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference today, suggest that after-school clubs, trips and other activities which allow pupils to interact and socialise with one another carry much greater benefits than previously thought.

Charm really does pay. Children who make lots of friends at school go on to earn higher salaries later in life, according to a new study which highlights the long-term financial benefits of being sociable.

People who reported having a high number of close friends in secondary school later enjoyed 10 per cent higher earnings than their peers, the research found – and the effect was even more pronounced among those who were “at the heart of things” when they were young.

The findings, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference today, suggest that after-school clubs, trips and other activities which allow pupils to interact and socialise with one another carry much greater benefits than previously thought.

“Our research confirms that the impact of education and school goes far beyond the knowledge that one acquires,” the researchers wrote. “More attention should be devoted during childhood and adolescence to the development of social skills, for example through social activities and clubs.”

The study, entitled Key Players: High School Networking Effects on Earnings, analysed data from AddHealth – an American survey following the fortunes of high school students through to adult life, which included information on their friendship groups.

The researchers found that the popularity of the students at school had a positive impact on their earnings 13 years after they graduated. Even more important than the size of a child’s friendship group was whether they were perceived as a “key player” with the ability to influence others.

“Being a key player seems to pay back in terms of earnings at adult life,” the academics wrote. “Social skills cannot simply be defined as ‘having friends’, but include a strategic feature as well. Having social skills means [being] able to connect with other key players inside the network. In some sense, this can be seen as a learning process that one is unlikely to lose in the future.”

The results have social policy implications as they suggest that young people who are less well off have a better chance of escaping poverty if they develop good social skills, said authors Lucia Barbone and Peter Dolton from the University of Sussex.

The study concluded that while cognitive factors such as intelligence, memory and reasoning were still important in securing a well-paid job, other factors such as personality, sociability, charm and motivation were equally vital.

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