Study Snapshot: Which U.S. Elementary Schoolchildren Are More Likely to Be Frequently Bullied?

For Immediate Release: April 10, 2021

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Tong Wu,
(202) 238-3233, (202) 957-3802 (cell)

Study Snapshot: Which U.S. Elementary Schoolchildren Are More Likely to Be Frequently Bullied?

Study: “Which U.S. Elementary Schoolchildren Are More Likely to Be Frequently Bullied?”
Authors: Paul Morgan (Pennsylvania State University), Adrienne D. Woods (Pennsylvania State University), Yangyang Wang (Pennsylvania State University), George Farkas (University of California, Irvine), Yoonkyung Oh (University of Texas Health Science Center), Marianne Hillemeier (Pennsylvania State University), Cynthia Mitchell (Pennsylvania State University)

This study was presented at the AERA 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting  
Session: Friends, Enemies, and Bullies: Peer Relationships in Schools
Date/Time: Saturday, April 10, 10:40 a.m. – 12:10 p.m. ET

Main Findings:

  • Kindergarten children who frequently externalize problem behaviors (i.e., are aggressive or otherwise target their behavior at others) are at high risk of being frequently bullied later in 3rd–5th grades.
  • Children with higher academic achievement and who can better self-regulate their behaviors—two other factors that can be modified—are at slightly less risk of being frequently bullied in later grades, particularly girls.
  • Black children are at greater risk for reputational bullying, particularly boys. Children with disabilities are more likely to be bullied, including physically and socially.


  • The authors analyzed a nationally representative cohort of 11,780 U.S. kindergarten children to identify factors that predict frequent verbal, social, reputation, and/or physical victimization later in 3rd -- 5th grades. The data came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten Cohort of 2010-2011, Children were followed from the fall of kindergarten until the spring of fifth grade in the 2015-16 academic year.
  • The study examined the role of behavioral functioning, academic achievement, parenting, and sociodemographic factors including family income, sex, race or ethnicity, and disability status.
  • The authors found that externalizing problem behaviors in kindergarten strongly and consistently increased children’s risk for being frequently bullied by the upper elementary grades. Children entering kindergarten already engaging in externalizing problem behaviors may benefit from early school-based mental health services to address their maladaptive behaviors. Externalizing problem behaviors are modifiable through early intervention.
  • In contrast, results from the study suggest that increasing children’s academic achievement and behavioral self-regulation would be expected to only slightly lower their risk for being frequently bulled, particularly for girls. These factors are also modifiable through early intervention. Greater academic achievement in kindergarten consistently, but weakly, predicted a lower risk for victimization but mostly among girls.
  • “Children who are frequently bullied are more likely to struggle emotionally, behaviorally, academically, and physically during school and so should be provided with additional mental health supports,” said coauthor Paul Morgan,  a professor of education and demography at Pennsylvania State University. “Yet which kindergarten children in the U.S. are already more likely to be frequently bullied during elementary school has been unclear.  Our findings help to identify the key risk factors.”
  • The authors found that internalizing problem behaviors also lowers children’s risks for being bullied during elementary school. Being anxious or socially withdrawn may only begin to increase the risk for being bullied during adolescence.
  • While parenting behaviors are mostly unrelated to children’s victimization, the results unexpectedly suggested that cognitively stimulating parenting may increase the risk of students being bullied, possibly due to the children being perceived as somehow different by their classmates.
  • The authors found that children from families with greater economic resources and those who are Hispanic are at lower risk of victimization, possibly due to experiencing greater social networks and family cohesion.
  • Boys are more likely to be physically bullied while young girls are more likely to be verbally socially, and reputationally bullied. Girls experienced more overall bullying than boys. The authors’ results suggest that early screening and intervention efforts should differentiate the specific bullying risks experienced by boys and girls.
  • Boys who are Black or have disabilities are more likely to experience specific types of bullying than girls who are Black or have disabilities.
  • Overall, children with disabilities were more likely to be bullied including physically and socially.
  • The authors found that the greater risk for victimization among Black adolescents reported in prior research is specific to Black boys for reputational bullying during elementary grades. The study findings indicate that Black children’s greater risk for reputational victimization is not explained by socio-demographic factors such as family income.

To request a copy of the working paper, or to talk to study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, cell: (202) 288-9333; Tong Wu, Communications Associate,, cell: (202) 957-3802


About AERA
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.