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Bullied kids struggle to keep a job later in life

U. WARWICK (UK) / DUKE (US) — Kids who are bullied often face a range of health and personal problems later in life, a new study finds.

Serious illness, struggling to hold down a regular job, and poor social relationships are just some of the adverse outcomes.

The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, highlight the extent to which the risk of health, wealth, and social problems is heightened by exposure to bullying—and in doing so is one of the first studies to look into the effects beyond just health.


“We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant.” (Credit: RHiNO NEAL/Flickr)

Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick and William E. Copeland of Duke University Medical Center led the team, looking beyond the study of victims and investigating the impact on all those affected—the victims, the bullies themselves, and those who fall into both categories: “bully-victims.”

“We cannot continue to dismiss bullying as a harmless, almost inevitable, part of growing up,” says Wolke. “We need to change this mindset and acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole; the effects are long-lasting and significant.”

The “bully-victims” presented the most significant health risk for adulthood, being over six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, to smoke regularly, or to develop a psychiatric disorder.

The results show that bully-victims are perhaps the most vulnerable group of all. This group may turn to bullying after being victims of bullying themselves as they lack the emotional regulation, or the support, required to cope with it.

Wolke adds: “In the case of bully-victims, it shows how bullying can spread when left untreated. Some interventions are already available in schools but new tools are needed to help health professionals to identify, monitor, and deal with the ill effects of bullying.

“The challenge we face now is committing the time and resource to these interventions to try and put an end to bullying.”

Bully vs. victim

All of the groups were more than twice as likely to have difficulty in keeping a job or commit to saving, and as such displayed a higher propensity for being impoverished in young adulthood.

However, very few ill effects of being the bully were found in the study. When accounting for the influence of childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships, which were prevalent in the bullies, it showed that the act of bullying itself didn’t have a negative impact upon adulthood.

“Bullies appear to be children with a prevailing antisocial tendency who know how to get under the skin of others, with bully-victims taking the role of their helpers,” explains Wolke. “It is important to finds ways of removing the need for these children to bully others and in doing so; protect the many children suffering at the hand of bullies as they are the ones who are hindered later in life.”

Though there was no real difference in the likelihood of being married or having children, all groups showed signs of having difficulty forming social relationships, particularly when it came to maintaining long-term friendships or good ties with parents in adulthood.

The research assessed 1,420 participants four to six times between the ages of 9 and 16 years and adult outcomes between 24-26 years of age.

Source: University of Warwick

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4 Comments

  1. Mark Fielding

    How validating. At 43 it’s been a long struggle through my adulthood to attempt to feel successful in the things I pursue, and my success rate overall is not great. I’m intelligent, likeable (and liked), resourceful and empathic. But for reasons I’ve never understood I seem to only get “so far” in my pursuits and interests in life.
    I was horribly bullied as a child, so much so that I attempted suicide 4 times when I was 14. It’s relieving to know that my struggles are probably not because I’m defective in some way, or just can’t “cut it”.
    So now what do I do? I’ve done the therapy thing, personal development programs, self-help/spirituality books (up the wazoo) but am still struggling to be really happy and satisfied. It’s better than it has been and getting better every day, but Jesus H. CHRIST I’m getting tired!

  2. devon

    Be careful of attribution to cause that which may simply be a correlation

  3. Gina

    Healthy Teen Network is developing an anti-bullying graphic novel, to be accompanied by a lesson plan to support its use in schools and other program settings. We are currently running a campaign to disseminate print copies to Baltimore City youth, but the electronic version and lesson plan will be available on our website (http://wedid.it/campaigns/381-getting-graphic).

  4. Dina Cooper

    A fantastic book released recently by Sue Anderson is Unbullyable http://www.unbullyable.com.au. It is a fantastic resource for anyone who has been bullied, is bullied or wants to prevent bullying. Sue has successfully worked with literally hundreds of children and adults who have been bullied. I think it is available to purchase in Australia and will be available to the rest of the world via Amazon very soon.

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