Geek or Jock, Networking Skills Count

The formative years of high school can be a joyful time for some and a nightmarish proving ground for others as students learn to navigate the highly stratified world of adolescent relationships. These experiences appear to have an additional benefit beyond simply making new friends; they also affect a student’s future income. In a new study, “Popularity,” written by Gabriella Conti, Andrea Galeotti, Gerrit Mueller, and Stephen Pudney, the authors demonstrate that regardless of their social group, the size of a student’s social networks appears to have an impact on their future earnings.

The study was based on information collected by the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS), which aggregated data on a group of 10,317 Wisconsin high school seniors from 1957 through 2005. The authors restricted the study to 4,330 male students to eliminate gender differences in workforce participation. Students in the sample were primarily non-Hispanic Whites. Selected students were tested for friendship ties through a survey method recording what the authors refer to as out-degree friendships, the number of “best friends” listed by a student; and in-degree friendships, the number of times a student was listed by others as a “best friend.” The authors find that the number of in-degree friendships was significantly correlated with future earnings. Over the course of the thirty-five year study, an increase on the in-degree friendship measure improved wages by roughly two percent.

The authors conclude that the in-degree measure is a more honest record of who is actually in a given student’s network, rather than the out-degree measure, which largely correlates to whom the student perceives or desires to be in their network. These observations remained consistent even after controlling for other factors such as family background, cognitive ability, and school quality.

Based on their results, the authors suggest that the social skills developed in high school must be valued by the labor market. In support of this conclusion, they theorize that the learned ability to understand the “rules” of the social game, such as how to navigate a complex social environment, can lead to greater professional advancement. Students with larger in-degree networks are more likely to be more socially adept, gaining the acceptance and trust of others as well as learning how to best utilize the support of their social network.

Overall, the study represents a starting point for future research and new proposals to improve students’ social development in school. This may compel schools to consider developing programs to improve certain students’ social skills, skills that their peers may be learning in other domains. This could be manifested through a formalized social skills curriculum as well as fostering student participation in familial socialization. As social skills become increasingly valuable, developing these skills could become a source of greater focus for both educators and researchers seeking to improve the impact of education on wages.

Feature photo: cc/greekadman'
Nicholas Baker
Nicholas Baker is a staff writer for The Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. He is interested in business regulation.

4 Responses to “Geek or Jock, Networking Skills Count

    Sarah Dickson
    ago5 years

    I’m so intrigued by the idea that social skills are valued in the labor market – but I am not surprised! I think, as you suggest, this is an excellent starting point for policy makers to focus on providing skills that go beyond the classroom in school. Those who are at ease in most social situations will find it much easier to successfully navigate the job market.

    Beth Kenefick
    ago5 years

    Did the article mention anything about the recent trends in social networks on the world wide web? I know there have been some case studies that different social network sites have allowed people to connect with people from the same religion, background, etc while they might be living in an area that lacks those similar populations – as far as being able to attend religious ceremonies through Second Life. They have also allowed people with anxiety issues to start to overcome those fears. I was just wondering if any of these benefits have been seen at the younger level, and could be harnessed to complement efforts schools are doing to help these populations develop these skills.

      Nick Baker
      ago5 years

      I don’t believe any digital, or online, forms of social networks were mentioned in the paper. There is reference to building social capital through the establishment of Social Networks (medium agnostic) though.

      This research focused on the steps beyond the exploration of how networks are formed. It was primarily concerned with how to properly measure the size of social networks as well as their resultant value, specifically related to wages.

      Those are, however, very interesting points you raise. I imagine some research on those topics does exist, though this particular paper was focused on the non-digital realm.

    Sarah S
    ago5 years

    The finding makes sense based on the standard that you often get jobs through who you know, not what you know. Beth’s comment above is really interesting on whether strong social network skills can overcome weak interpersonal skills for advancement in the job market. Does that mean that we should think of online etiquette as another skill to be taught in schools?