A new sociological study finds that the likelihood of being bullied is higher for more popular students, with the exception of those at the “top five percent of the school’s social strata.”
Published in the American Sociological Review, the study says that young people aiming to improve their social status may also be improving their risk of being bullied. The researchers looked at friendship networks at 19 schools in North Carolina.
“We did find that students who are isolated do get bullied,” co-author Diane Felmlee, a professor of sociology at Penn State, says in a press release. “However, for most students, the likelihood of being targeted by aggressive acts increases as a student becomes more popular, with the exception of those at the very top.”
“Peer status not only fails to protect students from several harmful outcomes associated with becoming a victim of aggression, but it appears to heighten them,” the researchers write in their conclusion.
The study notes that aggressors do attack the weak, but “not as often as they attack the strong.” It also identifies factors that protect students from bullying, including having an “aggressive friend” or having multiple cross-gender friends in a school where that isn’t common.
Finally—and perhaps unsurprisingly—Felmlee’s research found that girls are more likely to be victimized by aggressors of both genders, and girls who date are especially likely targets for physical aggression.
That disparity can clearly be attributed to the “greater institutional and cultural prestige enjoyed by males, whose activities are celebrated to a much greater extent in most schools,” the study says.