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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
Ahn, H.-J., Garandeau, C. F., & Rodkin, P. C. (2010). Effects of classroom embeddedness and density on the social status of aggressive and victimized children. Journal of Early Adolescence, 30, 76–101. doi:10.1177/0272431609350922.
Anderson, C., Ames, D. R., & Gosling, S. D. (2008). Punishing hubris: The perils of overestimating one’s status in a group. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 90–101. doi:10.1177/0146167207307489.
Anderson, C., & Brown, C. E. (2010). The functions and dysfunctions of hierarchy. Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 55–89. doi:10.1016/j.riob.2010.08.002.
Bentler, P. M. (1990). Comparative fit indexes in structural models. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 238–246. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.107.2.238.
Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In K. A. Bollen & J. S. Long (Eds.), Testing structural equation models (pp. 136–162). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Caravita, S. C. S., & Cillessen, A. H. N. (2012). Agentic or communal? Associations between interpersonal goals, popularity, and bullying in middle childhood and early adolescence. Social Development, 21, 376–395. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2011.00632.x.
Caravita, S. C. S., DiBlasio, P., & Salmivalli, C. (2009). Unique and interactive effects of empathy and social status on involvement in bullying. Social Development, 18, 140–163. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2008.00465.x.
Cheung, G. W., & Rensvold, R. B. (2002). Evaluating goodness-of-fit indexes for testing measurement invariance. Structural Equation Modeling, 9, 233–255. doi:10.1207/S15328007SEM0902_5.
Cillessen, A. H. N., & Marks, P. (2011). Conceptualizing and measuring popularity. In A. H. N. Cillessen, D. Schwartz, & L. Mayeux (Eds.), Popularity in the peer system. New York: Guilford Press.
Closson, L. M. (2009). Aggressive and prosocial behaviors within early adolescents’ friendship cliques: What’s status got to do with it? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 55, 406–435. doi:10.1353/mpq.0.0035.
de Bruyn, E. H., Cillessen, A. H. N., & Wissink, I. B. (2010). Associations of peer acceptance and perceived popularity with bullying and victimization in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 30, 543–566. doi:10.1177/0272431609340517.
DeRosier, M. E., Cillessen, A. H. N., Coie, J. D., & Dodge, K. A. (1994). Group social context and children’s aggressive behavior. Child Development, 65, 1068–1079. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00803.x.
Dijkstra, J. K., Lindenberg, S., & Veenstra, R. (2008). Beyond the class norm: Bullying behavior of popular adolescents and its relation to peer acceptance and rejection. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 1289–1299. doi:10.1007/s10802-008-9251-7.
Elgar, F. J., Craig, W., Boyce, W., Morgan, A., & Vella-Zarb, R. (2009). Income inequality and school bullying: Multilevel study of adolescents in 37 countries. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 351–359. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.04.004.
Ellis, W., & Zarbatany, L. (2007). Peer group status as a moderator of group influence on children’s deviant and aggressive behavior. Child Development, 78, 1240–1254. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01063.x.
Farmer, T. W., Hamm, J. V., Leung, M., Lambert, K., & Gravelle, M. (2011). Early adolescent peer ecologies in rural communities: Bullying in schools that do and do not have a transition during middle grades. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 1106–1117. doi:10.1007/s10964-011-9684-0.
Fast, N. J., Halevy, N., & Galinsky, A. D. (2011). The destructive nature of power without status. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 48, 391–394. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.07.013.
Fiske, S. T. (1993). Controlling other people: The impact of power on stereotyping. American Psychologist, 48, 621–628. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.48.6.621.
Fournier, M. A. (2009). Adolescent hierarchy formation and the social competition theory of depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 1144–1172. doi:10.1521/jscp.2009.28.9.1144.
Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Inesi, M. E., & Gruenfeld, D. H. (2006). Power and perspectives not taken. Psychological Science, 17, 1068–1074. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01824.x.
Garandeau, C. F., Ahn, H.-J., & Rodkin, P. C. (2011). The social status of aggressive students across contexts: The role of classroom status hierarchy, academic achievement, and grade. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1699–1710. doi:10.1037/a0025271.
Gest, S. D., Davidson, A. J., Rulison, K. L., Moody, J., & Welsh, J. A. (2007). Features of groups and status hierarchies in girls’ and boys’ early adolescent peer networks. In P. Rodkin & L. Hanish (Eds.), New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, Special Issue: Social Network Analysis and Children’s Peer Relationships. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Gest, S. D., & Rodkin, P. C. (2011). Teaching practices and classroom peer ecologies. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32, 288–296. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2011.02.004.
Greer, L. L., & van Kleef, G. A. (2010). Equality versus differentiation: The effects of power dispersion on group interaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 1032–1044. doi:10.1037/a0020373.
Gruenfeld, D. H., Inesi, M. E., Magee, J. C., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). Power and the objectification of social targets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 11–127. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52.
Henrich, J., & Gil-White, F. J. (2001). The evolution of prestige: Freely conferred deference as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22, 165–196. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(00)00071-4.
Hodges, E. V. E., Boivin, M., Vitaro, F., & Bukowski, W. M. (1999). The power of friendship: Protection against an escalating cycle of peer victimization. Developmental Psychology, 35, 94–101. doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.206.
Hu, L. T., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling, 6, 1–55. doi:10.1080/10705519909540118.
Juvonen, J., Nishina, A., & Graham, S. (2006). Ethnic diversity and perceptions of safety in urban middle schools. Psychological Science, 17, 393–400. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01718.x.
Keltner, D., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Anderson, C. (2003). Power, approach, and inhibition. Psychological Review, 110, 265–284. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.110.2.265.
Klein, J., & Cornell, D. (2010). Is the link between large high schools and student victimization an illusion? Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 933–946. doi:10.1037/a0019896.
Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created “social climates”. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271–299.
Li, Y., Wright, M. F. (2013). Adolescents’ social status goals: Relationships to social status insecurity, aggression, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-9939-z.
Lippitt, R. (1939). Field theory and experiment in social psychology: Autocratic and democratic group atmospheres. American Journal of Sociology, 45, 26–49.
Little, T. D., Slegers, D. W., & Card, N. A. (2006). A non-arbitrary method of identifying and scaling latent variables in SEM and MACS models. Structural Equation Modeling, 13, 59–72. doi:10.1207/s15328007sem1301_3.
Merten, D. (1997). The meaning of meanness: Popularity, competition, and conflict among junior high school girls. Sociology of Education, 70, 175–191.
Muthén, B. O., & Asparouhov, T. (2008). Growth mixture modeling: Analysis with non-Gaussian random effects. In G. Fitzmaurice, M. Davidian, G. Verbeke, & G. Molenberghs (Eds.), Longitudinal data analysis (pp. 143–165). Boca Raton, FL: Chapman & Hall/CRC.
Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2010). Mplus user’s guide (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén and Muthén.
Nelson, J. D., Gelfand, D. M., & Hartmann, D. P. (1969). Children’s aggression following competition and exposure to an aggressive model. Child Development, 40, 1085–1097. doi:10.2307/1127014.
Olweus, D. (1996). The Revised Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire. Mimeo. Bergen, Norway: Research Center for Health Promotion (HEMIL Center), University of Bergen.
Pellegrini, A. D., & Long, J. D. (2002). A longitudinal study of bullying, dominance, and victimization during the transition from primary school through secondary school. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 20, 259–280. doi:10.1348/026151002166442.
Pellegrini, A. D., Roseth, C., Mliner, S. C., Bohn, K., Van Ryzin, M., Vance, N., et al. (2007). Social dominance in preschool classrooms. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 121, 54–64. doi:10.1037/0735-7036.121.1.54.
Pepler, D., Jiang, D., Craig, W., & Connolly, J. (2008). Developmental trajectories of bullying and associated factors. Child Development, 79, 325–338. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01128.x.
Phillips, D. J., & Zuckerman, E. W. (2001). Middle-status conformity: Theoretical restatement and empirical demonstration in two markets. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 379–429. doi:10.1086/324072.
Pratto, F., Pearson, A. R., Lee, I., & Saguy, T. (2008). Power dynamics in an experimental game. Social Justice Research, 21, 377–407. doi:10.1007/s11211-008-0075-y.
Rowell, T. E. (1974). The concept of social dominance. Behavioral Biology, 11, 131–154. doi:10.1016/S0091-6773(74)90289-2.
Ryu, E., & West, S. G. (2009). Level-specific evaluation of model fit in multilevel structural equation modeling. Structural Equation Modeling, 16, 583–601. doi:10.1080/10705510903203466.
Saarento, S., Kärnä, A., Hodges, E. V. E., & Salmivalli, C. (2013). Student-, classroom-, and school-level risk factors for victimization. Journal of School Psychology, 51, 421–434. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2013.02.002.
Salmivalli, C. (2010). Bullying and the peer group: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15, 112–120. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2009.08.007.
Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Bjorkqvist, K., Osterman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (1996). Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggressive Behavior, 22, 1–15. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-2337(1996)22:1<1:AID-AB1>3.0.CO;2-T.
Salmivalli, C., Voeten, M., & Poskiparta, E. (2011). Bystanders matter: Associations between reinforcing, defending and the frequency of bullying behaviors in classrooms. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 40, 668–676. doi:10.1080/15374416.2011.597090.
Savin-Williams, R. C. (1979). Dominance hierarchies in groups of early adolescents. Child Development, 50, 923–935. doi:10.2307/1129316.
Schäfer, M., Korn, S., Brodbeck, F. C., Wolke, D., & Schulz, H. (2005). Bullying roles in changing contexts: The stability of victim and bully roles from primary to secondary school. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 29, 323–335. doi:10.1177/01650250544000107.
Sherif, M. (1956). Experiments in group conflict. Scientific American, 195, 54–58. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1156-54.
Shi, B., & Xie, H. (2012). Socialization of physical and social aggression in early adolescents’ peer groups: High-status peers, individual status and gender. Social Development, 21, 170–193. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2011.00621.x.
Sijtsema, J. J., Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S. M., & Salmivalli, C. (2009). Empirical test of bullies’ status goals: Assessing direct goals, aggression, and prestige. Aggressive Behavior, 35, 57–67. doi:10.1002/ab.20282.
Strayer, F. F., & Strayer, J. (1976). An ethological analysis of social agonism and dominance relations among preschool children. Child Development, 47, 980–989. doi:10.2307/1128434.
Tucker, L. R., & Lewis, C. (1973). A reliability coefficient for maximum likelihood factor analysis. Psychometrika, 38, 1–10. doi:10.1007/BF02291170.
Underwood, M. K. (2004). Gender and peer relations: Are the two gender cultures really all that different? In J. B. Kupersmidt & K. A. Dodge (Eds.), Children’s peer relations. From development to intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychologist Association.
Van Kleef, G. A., Oveis, C., Van der Lowe, I., LuoKogan, A., Goetz, J., & Keltner, D. (2008). Power, distress, and compassion: Turning a blind eye to the suffering of others. Psychological Science, 19, 1315–1322. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02241.x.
Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. (2009). The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Allen Lane.
Wolke, D., Woods, S., & Samara, M. (2009). Who escapes or remains a victim of bullying in primary school? British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27, 835–851. doi:10.1348/026151008X383003.
Wolke, D., Woods, S., Stanford, K., & Schulz, H. (2001). Bullying and victimization of primary school children in England and Germany: Prevalence and school factors. British Journal of Psychology, 92, 673–696. doi:10.1348/000712601162419.
Xie, H., & Shi, B. (2009). Gender similarities and differences in preadolescent peer groups: Group structure and ethnic diversity. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 55, 157–183. doi:10.1353/mpq.0.0021.
Zitek, E. M., & Tiedens, L. Z. (2012). The fluency of social hierarchy: The ease with which hierarchical relationships are seen, remembered, learned, and liked. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 98–115. doi:10.1037/a002534.
Zwaan, M., Dijkstra, J. K., & Veenstra, R. (2013). Status hierarchy, attractiveness hierarchy, and sex ratio. Three contextual factors explaining the status-aggression link among adolescents. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 37, 211–221. doi:10.1177/0165025412471018.
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.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Status hierarchy
- Multilevel structural equation modeling