The Socio-Emotional and Financial Costs of Bullying

Journal of Bullying and Social Aggression

Volume 1, Number 1, 2015

The Socio-Emotional and Financial Costs of Bullying In the United States

 Kriss Y. Kemp-Graham, Phd

  Assistant Professor

Department of Educational Leadership

College of Education and Human Service

Texas A&M University-Commerce


LaVelle Hendricks, EdD

Associate Professor of Counseling

Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education

College of Education and Human Services

Texas A&M University-Commerce



The negative consequences of students being bullied are not only visited on victims and their families, but also on the entire school community at great financial and social costs to society. To win the war on bullying, school administrators must acknowledge that bullying is a national phenomenon that crosses all ethnic and socioeconomic status. Therefore, it is imperative that administrators arm their school personnel with the knowledge and skills to identify, intervene and eliminate bullies and bullying. Being bullied is not a rite of passage.


Worldwide media coverage of the shooting events at Columbine High School in 1999, compounded by widely publicized details of student bullying prior to this tragic event was the catalyst that began serious conversations across the nation including school systems and families about the life altering effects of bullying.  Prior to 1999, the standard way of thinking about bullying was that being bullied was a normal part of childhood, a rite of passage and perhaps even a self-esteem/character builder.


In 1978, the founding father and leading world expert on bullying research, Swedish Research Professor of Psychology, Dan Olweus, advanced his now well researched and proven hypothesis that bullying is a subtype of violent behavior (Carrera, DePalma, & Lameiras, 2011). Olweus posits that in order to understand the phenomena of bullying, descriptors of bullying must first be identified.  In following this thinking, in the 1980s, this pioneer advanced the argument that when defining bullying, the definition must pass a three prong test: (1) intentionality; (2) repetitiveness and (3) power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim (Olweus, 2012).  Since the introduction of the three prong test, researchers have expanded on the conceptual framework presented by Dr. Olweus, thus, resulting in varying definitions of the term bully which has emerged in the research literature during the last three decades. Despite the existence of varied ideological frameworks and definitions of the term bully, researchers Carrera, et al. (2011) presented common elements shared in general by researchers in this area:

  • Sub-Type of Violence
  • Broad range of negative action, or physical, psychological and social in nature that occur over a prolonged period which are hurtful
  • Deliberate
  • Actions not generally provoked by the victim
  • Abuse may be carried out by one person or groups of persons


Bullies and Victims

Research to date, has informed us that there are three categories of students that are involved with bullying: the bully, the victim and the bullyvictim (combination).  Victims are classified in two groups:  passive/submissive, the most common form of victim, who appears anxious, submissive and physically weaker. The least common group, which occurs in about one in five victims, are those students characterized as exhibiting anxiety with aggression (bully/victim), often provoking feelings of rejection from peers and adults (Carrera, et al., 2011). Decades of research on the existence of similar characteristics of victims of bullying, have proved that there is no one type of student that experiences bullying, however there are groups of student who are at higher risk for being bullied, such as those students who appear weak, of being in poor health condition, disabled (Carrera, et al., 2011; Juvonen, 2011) or different from the majority of their peers.  It has recently been posited by lead Ohio State researcher, Lisa Williams, that high achieving black and Latino students should be included as an at-risk group that are at a heightened risk of being victimized by bullies because their academic achievements are contrary to the stereotypes that minority students do not perform well in school. (Juvonen, 2011)

Bully Prone Hotspots

Reported findings from detailed evaluations of varied circumstances surrounding the bullying of students in schools have identified key areas inside and outside of the school building where the probability of being bullied is exponentially increased.  For example, studies noted in their published research on bully victimization and school avoidance that students will more often be bullied in areas of the school that lack adult supervision, such as in hallways, lockers, bathrooms, athletic facilities, school playgrounds, lunchrooms, and bus stops. (Juvonen, 2011; Hurtzell & Payne, 2012)

Types of Bullying


There are five types of bullying that have been identified in the research literature on peer to peer bullying: (1) physical bullying which may involve hitting, pushing, kicking or tripping; (2) verbal bullying which may involve mean name calling; (3) social exclusion which may involve purposely ignoring or isolating others; and (4) spreading rumors or lies.  The most recently identified type of bullying is cyber-bullying, where bullies use technological devices such as cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices to victimize their peers. Surprisingly, Wang, Iannoti & Nansel (2009) published findings from their national study on bullying that adolescents commonly use all five identified types of bullying across the US.




            Cyber-bullying is a broadly defined term used to categorize student engagement in the electronic bullying of other students. That is, students engage in bullying behaviors by sending hurtful text messages, email messages, posts to social websites such as Facebook, and the mass electronic distribution of pictures that capture embarrassing moments of other students. Dan Olweus, PhD, a noted bullying researcher, disagrees with the media, authors, and researchers of cyber-bullying, that during the last five years there has been an increase in the number of student engagements in cyber-bullying.  Dr. Olweus further explains that negative consequences of unwarranted attention having been focused on cyber-bullying have detracted needed attention and resources from the traditional forms of bullying. Dr. Olweus’ criticism of the extensive reporting of heightened student use and exposure to cyber-bullying is not meritless. His belief that there has not been an increase in frequency of cyber-bullying activities is supported by his research conducted over a two-year period. (Olweus, 2012) Dr. Olweus administered the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire to approximately 450,490 students grades 1st through 12th in 1,349 schools. Analysis of this data revealed 10% of students had either been cyber-bullied, or had engaged in cyber-bullying another student, thus negating the belief that because of increased access to technology, new victims of bullying have resulted. (Olweus, 2012)

K-12 Impact

The negative consequences of students being bullied are not only visited on student victims of bullying and their families, but also on the entire school community.  The negative psychological, social and emotional impact felt by students has been correlated with decreases in student academic achievement.  In a study of 7,300 ninth graders and 3,000 teachers in Virginia schools, a negative relationship between the numbers of reported incidents of bullying and student test scores on state assessment exams was found. (St. George, 2011) More specifically, on average, schools where there were higher reports of bullying incidents, students scored three to six percent less on state assessment exams in Algebra, World History and Earth Science, than schools with lower reported bullying incidents. We all can agree that student success on test scores is associated with many variables; however, these researchers disproved this theory by controlling for characteristics of school size, poverty, race, and ethnicity and still finding that bullying was a major factor in decreased student state assessment scores.

In similar research, Juvonen (2011) reported findings from research conducted between 2005-2007 by the California Healthy Kids Survey. Seemingly, bullying was found to account for a 1.5 percent grade decrease in one academic subject during middle school years. St. George (2011) showed where there was minimal reporting of bullying of students with the highest GPA’s. Furthermore, Lisa Williams, a doctoral student at the Ohio State University, compared GPA’s of 9,900 students from 580 high schools to reported incidents of bullying in schools. She presented similar findings published by Juvonen (2011) and St. George (2011), that students on average who attended schools with lower reported incidents of student on student bullying performed better academically than their peers that attended school with high numbers of reported bullying. More specifically, Williams reported students who were being bullied:

  • in the tenth grade experienced a decrease .049 of their respective GPA’s.
  • had a huge difference in GPA’s for minority students when compared to their white peers.
  • like Asian and black students who had GPA’s of 3.5 in 9th grade and were bullied in the 10th grade, saw deceases in their GPA by 12th grade of .3 points.
  • like Latino students, experienced a .5 decrease in their GPA’s compared to their white peers with the same GPA, experienced a decrease of .03 points (Long, 2011; Fowler, 2012).

In addition to the negative emotional and academic impact of bullying, there are also financial repercussions that are rarely included in research articles on bullying. Decades of research has already shown that bullying victims can suffer from depression, lowered self-esteem, isolation, suicide/suicidal ideation, and lack of connectedness to the school/school community, which often translates into missed school days and decreases in academic performance. As reported in the website entitled in 2010, 160,000 students reportedly miss school each day due to being bullied.  School districts are reimbursed by the federal government based on student daily attendance (ADA); lowered student attendance means lowered reimbursements.  Student suspensions and dropouts are also included in the computation of ADA.  For example, the national school dropout rate ranges from 7 to 55% in a hypothetical school that has 1,000 students enrolled, experiencing a 12% dropout rate would lose $2,160,000 in federal funding. Expulsions, and alternate placements for students who are identified as bullies, also result in costs to the school district. Expulsions require teacher and administrator time away from their school building to attend hearings and conferences, in addition to billed lawyers fees; in the same hypothetical school, a 2% expulsion rate would cost the district $72,000. (Phillips, 2011) School districts are also liable for students who are injured during the school day as the result of bullying. Parents, on behalf of their children, sued school districts across the US and were awarded between $300,000 and $4.2 million dollars in damages and/or reimbursement of medical bills, because school officials neglected their duties as surrogate parents, or “in loco parentis”, to make sure their children were safe. (Tomazin, 2010; Cline-Thomas, 2011) To that end, all monies that are either expended or lost as a consequence of bullying, result in decreased amounts of fiscal capital available for staff and instructional resources to support student learning.





Carrera, M. V., DePalma, R., and Lameiras, M. (2011). Toward a More Comprehensive Understanding of Bullying in School Settings. Educational Psychology Review, 23(4), 479-499.

Cline-Thomas, A. (2011). School System Must Pay for Bullying Victim’s Medical Costs.

Fowler, D. (2012). Bullying Victims Often Suffer Academically, Particularly High Achieving Blacks and Latinos. ASA News.

Hurtzell, K. L. and Payne, A.A. (2012). The Impact of Victimization on School Avoidance. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 10(4), 370-385.

Juvonen, J. (2011). Bullying and Violence as Barriers to Academic Achievement. San Francisco, CA, West Ed, University of California, San Francisco.

Long, C. (2011) Bullying Takes Toll on Minority Student Achievement. NEA Today.

Olweus, D. (2012). Cyberbullying: An overrated phenomenon? European Journal of Developmental Psychology 9(5), 520-538.

Phillips, R. (2011). The Financial Costs of Bullying, Violence, and Vandalism. National Association of Secondary Principals: Leading Schools.

St. George, D. (2011) Bullying Linked to Lower School Achievement. The Washington Post.

Tomazin, F. (2010) School Bullying and Injuries Cost State Millions. The Age.

(2011) Bullying Victims See Lower GPA, Particularly High Achieving Blacks and Latino, Study Shows. Huff Post.



Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply