High School Popularity Doesn't Pay Off For Mental Health Later On

If you were more likely to grace your high school stadium with the marching band than the football team, you probably heard well-meaning adults assure you that after high school, the popular kids get their retribution. (The geeks shall inherit the earth, as they say.) That may well be the case, according to an August 2017 paper. Researchers found that being popular in high school may take a toll on your mental health as an adult.

You Can't Sit With Us

For their study, which was published in the journal Child Development, University of Virginia researchers surveyed 169 teens over a 10-year period, from age 15 to age 25. Each year, the teens answered questions about who their closest friends were, how those friendships were going, and how they felt when it came to things like anxiety, depression, social acceptance, and self-worth. Importantly, the researchers also surveyed the friends of those teens, and even had the subjects rank each other to assess their popularity. Dang, scientists. You are not playing around.

The researchers found that the teens who had just a few close friendships at age 15 became well-adjusted young adults. They had less social anxiety, fewer symptoms of depression, and a better sense of self-worth than their peers by the time they were 25.

Conversely, the teens who were ranked highest on that "Mean Girls"-esque popularity survey didn't fare so well later on. At age 25, they suffered from more social anxiety than their former classmates.

A stock photo approximation of teenagers, apparently.


But wait, you may say. Just because you're popular doesn't mean you lack close friends! What about the kids who have the best of both worlds? The researchers looked at that, too. They found that being popular and having close friendships was actually vanishingly rare. According to a press release, "...although some teens manage both popularity and close friendship well ... for the most part, these two types of social success are due to different personal attributes."

This research shows how important a BFF is for teens. As social media makes it easier and easier to amass a network of casual acquaintances, teens have to try harder than ever to really connect with a few quality people. "Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships," says University of Virginia psychology professor and study co-author Joseph Allen. "And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later."

How to Make New Friends

Written by Ashley Hamer September 8, 2017

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