Why Nerds are Unpopular

An interesting article about high school and how little it has to do with real life.

Why Nerds are Unpopular

Why Nerds are Unpopular

February 2003

When we were in junior high school, my friend Rich and I made a map of the school lunch tables according to popularity. This was easy to do, because kids only ate lunch with others of about the same popularity. We graded them from A to E. A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down’s Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called “retards.”

We sat at a D table, as low as you could get without looking physically different. We were not being especially candid to grade ourselves as D. It would have taken a deliberate lie to say otherwise. Everyone in the school knew exactly how popular everyone else was, including us.

My stock gradually rose during high school. Puberty finally arrived; I became a decent soccer player; I started a scandalous underground newspaper. So I’ve seen a good part of the popularity landscape.

I know a lot of people who were nerds in school, and they all tell the same story: there is a strong correlation between being smart and being a nerd, and an even stronger inverse correlation between being a nerd and being popular. Being smart seems to make you unpopular.

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  • overgrownhobbit

    I’ve read this before, and while much of it is accurate, it misses a third access of description. Yes, there are students who afe very academically successful (“smart”), students who are physically lovely and good at sports. These two sets can intersect a great deal more than the article claims, but it is true that by high school a certain amount of specialization can set in. The third access is moral health. Students who have both physical and intellectual gifts will generally be successful in high school so long as there are no significant off-setting factors, either internal (poverty, cultural barriers, or poor social skills) or external (the schools run by gangs).

    If they come from stable Christian homes, are brought up with chivalrous ideals, and the like, some of their detractors, much lower on the social scale, might mock them by calling them “the goody boys” but it will have little effect. They’ll adopt the name as a badge of honor, end up (for example) Capt. Of the football team, dating the prettiest girl in school, making straight As and winning a full-ride to the Naval Academy.

    A generation later, where the moral axis is in more decline, she could still be a style setter for fashion in her school, date the cutest guys, and win a national scholarship with her academic awesomeness.

    Now… Not so much.