The cost of social capital

A new working paper on friendships and test scores suggests that they may be substitutes rather than complements.

Do More Friends Mean Better Grades?: Student Popularity and Academic Achievement
Kata Mihaly
Peer interactions have been argued to play a major role in student academic achievement. Recent work has focused on measuring the structure of peer interactions with the location of the student in their social network and has found a positive relationship between student popularity and academic achievement. Here the author ascertains the robustness of previous findings to controls for endogenous friendship formation. The results indicate that popularity influences academic achievement positively in the baseline model, a finding which is consistent with the literature. However, controlling for endogenous friendship formation results in a large drop in the effect of popularity, with a significantly negative coefficient in all of the specifications. These results point to a negative short term effect of social capital accumulation, lending support to the theory that social interactions crowd out activities that improve academic performance.

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4 Responses to The cost of social capital

  1. Invig says:

    Interesting finding.

    I would agree and say that a potential solution is to design school activities around group formation.

    I myself find it much easier to stay motivated when others apart from myself care about the work I am doing. That there are social costs for failure to deliver quality work.

    Of course, in my model, this effect is called ‘external obligations’, and it is conceptually less about displacing activity time-wise and more about forcing people to choose between two distinct networks. In this case, between friends and work. And where a single decision cannot be completely supportive of both, meaning one has to suffer. Although the result is that Engagement, Activity, Capacity AND Spectrum are all harmed through reduction of Network Coherence (as I now call it).


    On a related matter…*knock knock*…does anyone read this?

  2. Martin says:


    I teach in an information systems degree and given that once they are working in the profession, they will be for the great majority of time working in teams, we strongly emphasise teamwork and this does help.

    But, there are many costs associated with this, such as team mates who don’t pull their share (often as you identify because they’ve decided to privilege the Work/Social Life/Family/World of Warcraft Network instead of the team network), the coordination costs for students who may have very differing schedules (unlike in industry where most teams work similar hours) and the very remote management that we as academics can afford to give the teams (again, unlike in industry)



  3. Dave Bath says:

    I’m wondering about the outlyers in test scores – the “nerds/geeks”.
    * These outliers generally have fewer friends because they are not much like others in their peer group.
    * A circle of friends closer to the mean might put peer pressure on a high-scorer to be less nerdy (even without the effect of time distractions).

    A similar study done not just in “normal” schools, but in groups catering for the intellectually disabled and super-abled could be useful.

  4. ChrisPer says:

    What about generally correlated matters – such as friendships, all-round achievement orientation, sports played, health, good looks, height? An all-round individual brings lots of things together in a broad success package that more usual introverted techie types do not have. Measuring just social contacts vs test scores seems to me to have not enough dimensions.

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