Take Heart, Teenage Nerds: You Will Probably Be Rich as an Adult

When it comes to teen archetypes, jocks are known for getting the girls, but when it comes to making money, nerds are the ones getting high salaries. New research suggests that four high school behaviors can predict financial and occupational success as adults: interest in school, acting responsibly and good reading and writing skills.

Researchers from the American Psychological Association wanted to determine whether certain behaviors exhibited in high school had long-term implications on our careers, so they looked at data taken over the span of 50 years.

In the 1960s, the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit social science research group, conducted a national study collecting data from more than 346,000 high school students around the country. Initially, they measured socioeconomic and demographic factors as well as personality, cognitive ability and student behavior. Participants completed standard personality tests, exams measuring mathematical, spatial, and verbal reasoning and  assessments about their work habits, e.g., how often they completed homework.

Then, 81,912 students completed a follow-up 11 years after the original study, and 1,952 of the original participants completed a survey 50 years after the initial assessments. The follow-up surveys looked at educational attainment, income and prestige of the participants’ careers.

The team found that long-term success came down to those four previously mentioned skills. Turns out, being interested in learning, acting responsibly and possessing good reading and writing skills were linked to having a higher income 50 years after high school.  

Study authors admit this finding isn’t too surprising but assert these four indicators can be thought of as reliable indicators of long-term success.

"This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person's life," study co-author Marion Spengler, of the University of Tübingen said in a statement.

However, a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2012 indicated that people who were more popular in high school made about two percent more compared to their counterparts.

But being a big deal in high school, whether academically or socially, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve great things, according to researcher Karen Arnold of Boston College. She asserts that while high school overachievers do go on to achieve career success, they won’t be the ones changing the world. Money magazine reported that after researching 81 valedictorians she discovered at least 60 percent went on to receive a graduate degree, but few were game changers.

“Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries . . . they typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up,” she said in the article.  

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