Kids Who Make Friendships Enjoy Higher Incomes as Adults
Adolescent socializing is skill-building
“You’re there to learn, not to socialize!” Like most parents of teens, you’ve probably found yourself laying down the law to your chatty child more than once — especially when they’ve been caught gassing to their friends instead of doing schoolwork.
But a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that nurturing friendships plays a critical role in helping your teen become a working adult.
For their analysis, researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which has detailed information on the friendship networks of individuals in middle school and high school. Those individuals are then tracked throughout their lifetime.
The results are striking: Social skills, and particularly extroversion, appear to have large positive returns in the labor market. Adding five or six friends in adolescence has an impact on adult wage earnings of around 10%, the researchers estimate — the equivalent of an additional year of schooling. A single friend might translate to an increase in wages of 2.5%.
When your kid is talking and joking with their peers, they’re learning how to expand their network — the same network that may eventually help them find a job, receive a promotion or bonus, or avoid losing a job. They’re also discovering how to accrue social capital, a critical skill for any workplace or professional environment. And finally, they’re improving their social skills.
Though the researchers say the direct link between socializing and eventual wages in the study is novel, other researchers have long suggested that students get almost as much from being around their peers as they do from schoolwork itself. Still other studies have shown a direct link between popularity and school performance.
Even organizations sometimes dismissed as focused on irrelevant partying (such as less academically focused sororities and fraternities) seem to play an important role in helping students learn how to live with — and even like — one another.
Something as arbitrary as your randomly assigned college roommate might also play a big role in how your life pans out. One study found that a roommate’s career choice influences whether a person opts for a high paying field such as finance, consulting or law as a first job.Yes, as most parents have observed, peers hold great sway.
Except at the extreme end of the spectrum of sociableness, time spent with friends was not associated with lower schooling outcomes, researchers found. (Perhaps surprisingly, neither was drinking, except for those who drink a lot.) In fact, those who did a little more studying generally had more friends than those who did not.
In the current pandemic reality, it’s hard to allow your teen to do the socializing they crave, or to push them toward it, if they’re among the 35% who don’t identify as extroverted and to whom these skills come less naturally. Activities that raise test scores and other schooling outcomes while depressing social opportunities may not be the best answer in the long run.
Though it can be a decent stopgap solution, online education rather than in-person classes might negatively affect students’ social lives — and, eventually, their wages.