“A study of 10,000 U.S. students over a period of 35 years suggests the wealthiest people are those that had the most friends at school. Each extra schoolfriend added 2% to the salary.” (BBC New Magazine, March 3, 2009)
There has been much discussion in the comments of this blog about how it is the quality of friendships, rather than the quantity, that is important. Yes. I think this is true. But I also can’t ignore the research I keep finding about how, when it comes to friends, more is more.
That there is actual evidence pointing to the concept that more friends in high school equals more money down the line is pretty remarkable. I know there are a lot of people who will take issue with it (Good! I love dialogue!), but before anyone gets too upset, it’s important to think about what “friend” means in this case.
Discussion about friendships often gets heated because we all define “friend” differently. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says: “One attached to another by affection or esteem.” That’s kind of broad. Then, it gives a synonym: Acquaintance. What?? Friend and acquaintance are entirely different! And this is the problem. You might think the friend title should only be bestowed upon those you would make dinner plans with, while I might think the label applies to anyone I would stop and chat with if I ran into them on the street. In both cases, I think the “attached by affection or esteem” definition would hold true.
Social psychologists often talk about three tiers of friendship: Let’s call them the BFFs, the friends, and the acquaintances. You might be able to maintain 100 acquaintances, but if you have 5 BFFs, you’re mighty lucky.
As for this study, I would argue it’s not really about friendship at all. It’s about popularity. Very different. Each student in the study (all of whom were male, I don’t know why) was asked to name his three best friends from his senior class. Those people whose names were listed the most were considered the ones with the most friends. Per the study, “One additional friendship nomination in high school is associated with a 2 percent higher wage 35 years later. This is roughly equivalent to almost half the gain from an extra year of education. Shifting somebody from the bottom ﬁfth to the top ﬁfth of the school popularity distribution – in other words, turning a social reject into a star – would be predicted to yield him a 10 percent wage advantage.”
It’s kind of crazy. What about the whole “the nerds will run the world” thing? But then, it’s not shocking that someone with good social skills—someone who more people consider a best friend—would make more money. To be in management positions, you need to be a bit of a people person. At least in theory.
The moral of the story: If you have kids, teach them good social skills now. Their bank accounts will thank you later.
How do you define “friend”? What makes one person deserving of friend title and another one not? Does this study seem bogus or totally logical? Surprising?