In any group, there will be a status ceiling, above which there are no group members, and a status floor, below which there are no group members.
We intuitively get, I think, the idea of a status floor; unless you were accepted to every college you applied to, got every job you tried for, and have always hung out with the “cool kids” of your social milieu, you’ve experienced a status floor.
The ceiling is a bit trickier. No one’s stopping a high-status person hanging out with a group, so why aren’t they there?
The answer is that at that level, those of high status can probably succeed at joining a higher-status group, and leaving this one behind.
OK. Well and good. So why am I writing a blog post about this?
Because this dynamic is not necessarily obvious. The reason is that there are different types of status.
When I was in high school, I wanted to do…I don’t know. Smart things. And I had pretty insanely good test scores. So when it came time to apply for colleges, I applied to BYU, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Cal Tech. I was only accepted to BYU.
Why? Because I had abysmal grades in high school. Like, barely graduated.
So let’s take a second and think about how one gets into a college. They look at a bunch of stuff: test scores, grades, extracurriculars, essays, who knows what else. But to get in, one must do well on at least one of these. That’s the status floor: anyone you meet on campus must have something, orthey wouldn’t be there.
But after the acceptance letters go out, it’s time for the status ceiling to take effect. Imagine a more diligent me with better grades. Perhaps I would have made it to Harvard. In which case: I probably would have gone there.
So while it’s true that anyone you meet on campus isn’t a complete moron, they’re probably not Ivy material either—because if they were, they’d be there!
Note that the floors and ceilings for individual characteristics is much wider than for the composite used for admissions. You can have a very smart person at BYU (who’s a slacker) or someone not too bright (who works very hard and plays the system well). So it doesn’t look like there’s a narrow floor/ceiling, because on any one characteristic, there isn’t.
But a ceiling/floor combo there is, which leads to an interesting property — if you meet someone really smart on the campus of an average school, you automatically know they probably have some sort of other problem.
This could lead to some weird conclusions. If you went around asking everyone for their test scores and high school GPA’s, you would find that they’re negatively correlated. You might conclude that “public schools just can’t manage their genius!” or that “tests don’t measure scholastic aptitude!” Those may or may not be true, but they aren’t supported by our little ad hoc study.
So let’s bring this back to the topic at hand.
Don’t even click the link for a second. Just think about it. The boyfriend, to have a girlfriend, must somewhat have his life together. Why does he have an unstable ex? I’m guilty of this as well. All my bro friends are down-to-earth dudes. Why are some of the girls I’ve dated crazy?
The answer is: the layer effect. The field of girls available to a guy will, overall, fall in a narrow range. But on any given characteristic the range is much wider—including looks.
So we really need to be asking two questions: a) why did the guy date her (she was hot), and why did she date him. Or, to put another way: if she was so pretty, why couldn’t she date a better dude? The answer: crazy.