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Inequality Matters: Classroom Status Hierarchy and Adolescents’ Bullying

Abstract

The natural emergence of status hierarchies in adolescent peer groups has long been assumed to help prevent future intragroup aggression. However, clear evidence of this beneficial influence is lacking. In fact, few studies have examined between-group differences in the degree of status hierarchy (defined as within-group variation in individual status) and how they are related to bullying, a widespread form of aggression in schools. Data from 11,296 eighth- and ninth-graders (mean age = 14.57, 50.6 % female) from 583 classes in 71 schools were used to determine the direction of the association between classroom degree of status hierarchy and bullying behaviors, and to investigate prospective relationships between these two variables over a 6-month period. Multilevel structural equation modeling analyses showed that higher levels of classroom status hierarchy were concurrently associated with higher levels of bullying at the end of the school year. Higher hierarchy in the middle of the school year predicted higher bullying later in the year. No evidence was found to indicate that initial bullying predicted future hierarchy. These findings highlight the importance of a shared balance of power in the classroom for the prevention of bullying among adolescents.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All participants could nominate any of their classmates. Therefore, some of the students in the sample have peer-reported scores for bullying and status measures although they did not make any nominations themselves, either because they were absent or because they failed to provide parental consent to participate.

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Acknowledgments

The research reported in this manuscript was supported by funding from the Finnish National Doctoral Program of Psychology to the first author and Grants 121091 and 135577 from the Academy of Finland to the third author. The development of the program and the related research is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture. We thank the whole KiVa project team for their continued support.

Author contributions

All persons who have contributed significantly to this work have been listed as authors. CG conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript. IL designed the statistical models, performed the statistical analyses, and helped in data interpretation and manuscript writing. CS obtained funding, helped in the interpretation of the results and has been involved in critical revision of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Claire F. Garandeau.

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Garandeau, C.F., Lee, I.A. & Salmivalli, C. Inequality Matters: Classroom Status Hierarchy and Adolescents’ Bullying. J Youth Adolescence 43, 1123–1133 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-013-0040-4

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Keywords

  • Bullying
  • Status hierarchy
  • Popularity
  • Multilevel structural equation modeling