If someone had a Wikipedia page, you’d consider them successful, right? But what is it that makes someone successful enough to have one?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz knows the secrets of big data — how big data finds and eventually reveals our secrets. And how big data finds connections that seem to defy all logic, such as the connection between the word God and telling lies.
He’s a Harvard-trained economist, former Google data scientist and the author of Everybody Lies. Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.
Stephens-Davidowitz decided to use data science to find out what makes people successful.
To figure this out, he analyzed more than 150,000 editor-approved Wikipedia entries about individuals. He considered a person successful if they had their own Wikipedia page.
Stephens-Davidowitz limited his dataset to baby boomers because according to the scientist “they have had nearly a full lifetime to become notable”. The dataset included each person’s country of birth, date of birth, occupation, and gender, reports Weller.
He found roughly 30% of people found success through arts and entertainment, 29% through sports, 9% through politics, and 3% through science or academia. But it was the reasons why they became successful that caught his attention.
So what made people successful? You’ll never guess…
The number one factor to success is where you were born. Crazy, right?
One in 1,209 baby boomers born in California had a Wikipedia page compared to only one in 4,496 West Virginia-natives did. If you zoom in on counties, the differences are even more amazing. Boston’s Suffolk County showed one in 748 boomers becoming successful; in other counties, the success rate was 20 times lower.
There is more.
Looking deeper, geography made the biggest difference when it was in or near large, semi-urban college towns. The counties containing Madison, Wisconsin; Berkeley, California; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Ithaca, New York, which are all home to top universities, were all in the top 3% of counties ranked by Wikipedia page frequency.
The best is still to come.
Diversity seems to have been key to many people’s success. Isn’t this interesting? We have been hearing so much about the necessity of diversity for success, and here we have proof.
Stephens-Davidowitz wrote, “The greater the percentage of foreign-born residents in an area, the higher the proportion of children born there who go on to notable success.”
Take this in:
The effect was so great, among two equal college towns, both of a decent size, “the one with more immigrants will produce more prominent Americans.”
So there you have it – college towns with many immigrants are a breeding ground of successful Americans.
When you think about it, this outcome shouldn’t be surprising. College towns offer an unusual environment of great exposure to the arts in all its forms and a backdrop of learning and discovery that becomes part of you as you grow up. It is not uncommon to have a professor for a neighbor or to have friends who are the children of famous scientists.
If you are surrounded by success and achievement, you take it as part of your world, participate in it and become successful in your own right. It is what you naturally expect of yourself and what we envision tend to realize.