Media Briefings

SOCIABLE STUDENTS MAKE MORE MONEY: Evidence from US high school kids

  • Published Date: March 2015

Young people with a larger network of friends at school build more social skills, which can lead to higher earnings later in life. That is the main finding of research by Lucia Barbone and Peter Dolton, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2015 annual conference.

Their study analyses data from AddHealth, a US survey that follows high school students through to adult life. The researchers then compare the popularity of students and whether they were seen as a ‘key player’ at school with their earnings 13 years after graduating. It finds that:

• An increase in social skills of 10% led to earnings nearly 11% higher.
• This is especially true for white and male students, as well as those on lower salaries.

The authors stress that while factors such as intelligence, memory, reasoning are important (cognitive skills), other factors such as personality, sociability, charm, energy and motivation (‘non-cognitive skills’) become increasingly important in later life.

Until recently, most studies of ‘non-cognitive’ skills looked at personality, as well as emotional and behavioural traits. The new study instead focuses on the social skills gained in high school that create a ‘network effect’. The authors argue that this ability sets a student apart from the crowd – the ability not only to develop relationships with others, but also be a key player and at the ‘heart of things’.

According to the authors, the results for lower earners suggest that social skills can give young people a better chance of escaping poverty. They comment:

‘Our research confirms that the impact of education and school goes far beyond the knowledge the one acquires, supporting the importance of providing free and public education for everyone.

‘More attention should be devoted during childhood and adolescence to the development of social skills, for example, through social activities and clubs.’

More…

The ability of a student to become a key player in the school network can increase earnings during adult life, according to research by Lucia Barbone and Peter Dolton, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2015 annual Conference.

Over the past decade, increasing attention has been devoted to the link between the so-called ‘non-cognitive skills’ and labour market outcomes, such as earnings. The most famous example of non-cognitive skills is personality. Researchers typically define non-cognitive factors as all the aspects of an individual not directly involved in cognition, such as personality traits, sociability, charm, energy and motivation.

Proxies for these attributes are measures of network connectivity, such as who are your friends and who are the friends of your friends, or how central are you – that is, whether you are a ‘key player’. But measurement of these skills is challenging and under development. In fact, it is not easy to separate cognitive and non-cognitive skills, since they often influence each other.

Non-cognitive skills have been estimated in research using different proxies, chosen according to the aim of the analysis. These proxies can be grouped in three main categories: psychological or personality traits; socio-emotional skills; and behavioural issues.

Only recently, social network analysis tools have been adopted as a proxy of individual relational attributes or social skills. Many researchers have then used different measures, such as the number of friends one has, or how popular one is, to account for non-cognitive skills, and they typically find a positive and significant effect on earnings.

Previous attempts to use ‘popularity’ have their limitations. This new study claims that non-cognitive skills include not only the ability to create links with others, but also to be at the heart of things and to be connected with more connected others in the network. The authors use one of the most famous US datasets, AddHealth, a longitudinal survey of students from high school to adult life, which includes information on the friendship network of students during high school.

Results show that this ability, developed during high school, can significantly increase earnings at adult life: increasing non-cognitive skills by 10% is linked to an increase in earnings of almost 11% 13 years later. The effects have a magnitude similar to the ones attached to socioeconomic status, and to education. The benefits particular favour white and male students. Therefore, social skills are as important as cognitive skills for success in the labour market.

In addition, the study shows that the advantage is higher for those working on a relatively low salary. This result is particularly interesting since social abilities can give the opportunity to alleviate poverty.

This study has important implications in terms of public policy. Indeed, more attention should be devoted during childhood and adolescence to the development of these social skills, for example, through social activities and clubs. It also shows that the impact of education and school goes far beyond the knowledge the one acquires, supporting the importance of providing free and public education for everyone.

ENDS


‘Key Players: High School Networking Effects on Earnings’ by Lucia Barbone and Peter Dolton

Lucia Barbone is at the Catholic University of Milan and at the University of Sussex.

Peter Dolton is at the University of Sussex.

For further information, contact:

Peter Dolton p.dolton@sussex.ac.uk

Lucia Barbone lb328@sussex.ac.uk or luciamaria.barbone@unicatt.it