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Are there differences in the bullying experiences of girls and boys?

In the early 1990s, over 16,000 children from primary and secondary schools in Strathclyde were asked about bullying. According to the pupils' answers, two thirds of bullying was carried out by boys. While there is not a large difference in the type of bullying, the boys did tend to use more physical bullying, while girls were slightly more likely than boys to keep others out of things. It was also found that boys tended to be bullied by other boys. However girls in primary school were bullied equally by both boys and girls; those in secondary school more by girls than boys. Another difference was that boys in primary school were bullied more often by older pupils. In secondary school, both girls and boys were more likely to be bullied by pupils of the same age.
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Article details

A McLean (about 1994), 'Bullyproofing Our School - what do the pupils think?', unpublished report. Reference copy held by the Anti-Bullying Network.
There is also a summary of the project - A McLean, (1997) 'Bullyproofing Our School: what do the pupils think?', Topic 2, Issue 17, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). This article can be viewed here.
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Alan McLeanAuthor details

At the time of this study, Alan McLean was Principal Psychologist based at the Education Department Psychological Service in the former Strathclyde Regional Council. His particular interests in the area of bullying include: links between bullying and motivation; the thinking processes and self-esteem of the bully.

He can be contacted at by email.

In a study which began in 1990, over 6,000 primary and secondary school children in Sheffield were asked about bullying. Their answers showed that there is not much difference in the number of boys and girls being bullied. However, twice as many boys as girls admitted to bullying others. It was found that boys tended to be bullied by other boys, while girls were bullied by both girls and boys. Pupils' answers also revealed that it was more common for boys to be involved in physical bullying while girls were more likely than boys to be involved in psychological bullying (such as ignoring someone or deliberately keeping someone out of things).
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Article details

I Whitney and P Smith (1993), 'A Survey of the Nature and Extent of Bullying in Junior/Middle and Secondary Schools', in 'Educational Research', Volume 35, Number 1, Spring.
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Graph details

'Percentage of boys and girls (averaged by class and school) who reported being bullied and bullying others during this school term' from Whitney and Smith article above, table 1, page 8.

Junior/Middle Schools Secondary Schools
Sometimes or more Once a week or more Sometimes or more Once a week or more
Been bullied:
Boys (N = 1271) 28 10 12 5
Girls (N = 1352) 27 10 9 4
Overall (N = 2623) 27 10 10 4
Bullied others:
Boys (N = 2152) 16 6 8 2
Girls (N = 1983) 7 1 4 1
Overall (N = 4135) 12 4 6 1

 

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Author details

Peter SmithProfessor Peter K Smith is Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London. He has been involved in bullying research for a number of years and has published widely on this topic.

Peter Smith may be contacted by email, and the website of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College may be found here.

A 1997 study of bullying in 19 English schools (primary and secondary) revealed physical bullying was far more common among boys than girls. Girls, on the other hand, were more likely than boys to deliberately exclude someone from a group. Another big difference appeared in answers about the gender of bullies. Usually when boys were bullied, it was by other boys, however girls were usually bullied by other girls and by boys. Another difference was in how bullies felt about their victims. Girls were almost twice as likely as boys to feel pity towards their target; they were also more likely to feel generally bad about it. However, the most common reaction of girls and boys was that the victims had somehow brought it on themselves. There was also a difference in the reactions of the victims. It was more common for girls to cry than boys, also they were more likely to ask friends for help.
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Article details

P K Smith and Shu Shu (2000) 'What Good Schools Can Do About Bullying: findings from a survey in English schools after a decade of research and action', in 'Childhood', Volume 7 (2).
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Graph details

'Percentages of those bullied (sex of those bullying)' from Smith and Shu article above, table 5, page 202.

Boy victims Girl victims
Only by boys 75.6 9.7
Mainly by boys 14.4 10.8
By both boys and girls 8.8 29.5
Mainly by girls 0.3 14.9
Only by girls 0.9 35.1

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Author details

Peter SmithProfessor Peter K Smith is Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London. He has been involved in bullying research for a number of years and has published widely on this topic.

Peter Smith may be contacted by email, and the website of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College may be found here.

According to the answers of almost 1,000 pupils in Scotland in 1987, at secondary school, boys were more involved in bullying (as victim or bully) than girls. In third year the number of boys being bullied increased sharply while the number of girls who reported being bullied dropped. Another difference appeared when pupils were asked if they had bullied others recently, with far more boys than girls admitting to bullying. This difference was particularly noticeable in S4, where very few girls admitted to bullying, but roughly 12% of the boys admitted bullying others, and 5% admitted to bullying someone every day.
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Article details

A Mellor (1989) 'Boys and Girls', extract from 'Bullying - Not Worth Bothering About', unpublished report. A reference copy is held by the Anti-Bullying Network at the University of Edinburgh.
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Author details

Andrew MellorAt the time of the study, Andrew Mellor was a practising teacher who had received funding from the Scottish Education Department to carry out this project. He has been actively involved in anti-bullying work in Scotland for almost 15 years, speaking at conferences, writing for academic and non-academic audiences and running in-service courses for teachers. He is now manager of the Anti-Bullying Network, which is funded by the Scottish Executive and based at The University of Edinburgh.

When, in the 1990s, over 26,000 Australian children (8 - 18 years) were asked about bullying, their answers revealed differences between the experiences of boys and girls. Boys were bullied more often than girls, particularly in secondary school. While boys and girls were subjected to teasing and name calling almost equally, boys were more likely than girls to be physically bullied and threatened. According to the pupils' answers, girls were more likely than boys to be deliberately and unkindly left out of things. There is also a difference in the way they react to bullying. It was found that boys were less likely to admit to being bothered by it and, if they did, they said they felt angry whereas girls said they felt sad and miserable.
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Article details

K Rigby, 'What Children Tell Us About Bullying in Schools.' Available here or in 'Children Australia', (1997) 22, 2, pp28-34.
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Graph details

Some illustrative graphs are available to view by following the above link to Ken Rigby's online article.

Author details

Ken RigbyKen Rigby is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Psychology and an educational consultant at the University of South Australia. He has been involved in major studies of bullying in Australia and has published widely on this topic. For more information about Dr Rigby and his work see the bullying pages here. Ken may be contacted by e-mail.

An English study of bullying in 25 secondary schools found little difference in the number of boys and girls physically bullying others. There was a greater difference in the way girls and boys responded to being bullied. It was found that girls were less likely to retaliate and became victims while boys tended to hit back. Girls were less violent in their physical bullying but when they did fight it tended to be very serious. The study found that after the age of 14 the level of physical bullying fell for both boys and girls.
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Article details

D Glover, G Gough, M Johnson, N Cartwight (2000) 'Bullying in 25 secondary schools: incidence, impact and intervention', in 'Educational Research' Volume 42 Issue 2.

In 2000, pupils from 120 schools in Northern Ireland were asked about bullying. At primary school level girls were more likely to be bullied by another girl in the same class, while it was more common for boys to be bullied by an older boy. At secondary school level it was still more likely for girls to be bullied by a female classmate, and boys were usually bullied by other boys. It was also found that at primary and secondary school level, boys were more likely than girls to be bullied and to bully others.
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Article details

'Bullying in Schools: a Northern Ireland study', Research Briefing (RB) 8/2002. Department of Education, Northern Ireland. Published October 2002. This document can be downloaded here (.pdf document). A copy of the full report 'Bullying in Schools: a Northern Ireland study' is available from the Department of Education, Northern Ireland, price £5.
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