Sociometric versus Socioeconomic Status

A Bentley Continental Supersports Coup goes for somewhere north of a cool quarter million.

A Harvard undergraduate degree – roughly $50,000 a year if you live on ramen noodles when the dining halls are closed.

A twenty-plus days European cruises – chump change.

The respect and admiration of your friends and neighbors. PRICELESS.

It’s not just a riff on a clever commercial. It’s actually the truth.

At least in regard to overall happiness, according to a psychological scientist Cameron Anderson of the Haas School of Business, University of California (Berkley). Haas and his coauthors found that higher socioeconomic status not only doesn’t equate with a greater sense of well-being, but higher sociometric status – respect and admiration in your face-to-face groups including friendships, neighborhood, and athletic team – might make a difference in overall happiness.

“Having high standing in your local ladder leads to receiving more respect, having more influence, and being more integrated into the group’s social fabric,” noted Anderson in reporting a series of four studies in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science – June 20, 2012.

In the first study, the researchers surveyed 80 college ROTC students who participated in 12 different campus groups, including sororities. Peer sociometric statuses were calculated through a combination of peer ratings, self-report, and the number of leadership positions each student held; students also reported their total household income and answered questions related to their social well-being. In the ROTC study, sociometric status – but not socioeconomic status – predicted students’ social well-being scores, even after accounting for gender and ethnicity. The researchers replicated these results in a second – larger and more diverse – sample of participants. They found the relationship between sociometric status and well-being could be explained – in part – by the sense of power and social acceptance students said they felt in their personal relationships.

In a third study, the researchers found evidence that the relationship between sociometric status and well-being could actually be evoked and manipulated in an experimental study.

In the final study, researchers studied MBA students in “the real world” and found that sociometric status and well-being changed as students moved from pre-graduation to post-graduation and corresponded to changes in the students social well-being. A post-graduation sociometric status predicted social well-being more strongly than did post-graduation socioeconomiuc status.

“I was surprised at how fluid these effects were – if someone’s standing in their local ladder went up or down, so did their happiness, even over the course of 9 months,” noted Anderson.

Taken as a whole, the studies provide clear evidence for the relationship between sociometric status and well-being. “One of the reasons why money doesn’t buy happiness is that people quickly adapt to the new level of income or wealth. Lottery winners, for example, are initially happy but then return to their original level of happiness quickly,” noted Anderston.

At the same time, however, “It’s possible that being respected, having influence, and being socially integrated never gets old.”

Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.

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