Playground outcasts set for leadership

5th September 2003 at 01:00
They may be the most unpopular pupils in your class but they could turn out to be world leaders.

Researchers have discovered that children who are alienated in the playground at the age of 10 are more likely than others to join a political party as adults.

One attraction, according to Karen Robson of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, is the social contact that requires less emotional investment than non-institutional relationships.

"It could be about achieving some kind of status that they can't have in regular social spheres," she said. "If you go to a Labour party meeting or a church group, there is less of a risk of people ridiculing you and telling you to go away."

She examined data on 16,771 people born in the same week in 1970.

Children who failed to integrate with their classmates were more likely to be depressed as adults, less likely to have a partner and less likely to have a degree.

However, they were also more likely to be involved in voluntary organisations such as church groups, charities and political parties.

The findings came from comparing questionnaire data from when the subjects were aged 10 and 29. At school, the children were asked a series of questions including "Do you think that other children often say nasty things about you?" and "Do you feel sad because you have nobody to play with?"

Teachers were also asked to assess how popular the children were and estimate how many friends they had.

Ms Robson had expected rejection during childhood would have a lasting effect on adults' lives, but was surprised the "peer-alienated" group was more likely to be involved in voluntary activities as adults.

"Peer Alienation: predictors in childhood and outcomes in adulthood" is published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research.

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