For many students, being popular is the ultimate goal in school. But a new study in the American Sociological Review reveals that many popular students have a higher likelihood of being bullied as they climb the social ladder. Co-author Bob Faris, an associate professor of sociology at UC Davis, notes that, “the climb up can be painful… As kids get closer [to the top], they become more involved in social combat.”
Students who move up from mid-level popularity increase their chances of being bullied by 25%. However, the exception is for those at the very top. Once a student is among the top 5% of popular students, her or his likelihood of facing bullying drops dramatically.
The research does not negate the myriad other reasons why students face bullying, including ability status, body image, gender, and sexual orientation. However, as schools and community organizations strategize about how to address bullying, it is critical that students climbing the social ladder are not overlooked. That need is especially great because these students will often use other language to describe their experiences, such as “drama” or “beef,” rather than acknowledging that they are being bullied.
The study is based on a longitudinal survey of 4,200 8th, 9th, and 10th graders from 19 public schools in North Carolina.