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Prevalence of bullying and victimization among children in early elementary school: Do family and school neighbourhood socioeconomic status matter?

Pauline W Jansen1*, Marina Verlinden12, Anke Dommisse-van Berkel3, Cathelijne Mieloo34, Jan van der Ende1, René Veenstra56, Frank C Verhulst1, Wilma Jansen34 and Henning Tiemeier17

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Psychology, Erasmus MC-University Medical Center, PO-BOX 2060, 3000, CB, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

2 The Generation R Study Group, Erasmus MC-University Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

3 Municipal Public Health Service Rotterdam Rijnmond, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

4 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC-University Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

5 Department of Sociology, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands

6 Department of Psychology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland

7 Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus MC-University Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:494  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-494

Published: 2 July 2012



Bullying and victimization are widespread phenomena in childhood and can have a serious impact on well-being. Children from families with a low socioeconomic background have an increased risk of this behaviour, but it is unknown whether socioeconomic status (SES) of school neighbourhoods is also related to bullying behaviour. Furthermore, as previous bullying research mainly focused on older children and adolescents, it remains unclear to what extent bullying and victimization affects the lives of younger children. The aim of this study is to examine the prevalence and socioeconomic disparities in bullying behaviour among young elementary school children.


The study was part of a population-based survey in the Netherlands. Teacher reports of bullying behaviour and indicators of SES of families and schools were available for 6379 children aged 5–6 years.


One-third of the children were involved in bullying, most of them as bullies (17%) or bully-victims (13%), and less as pure victims (4%). All indicators of low family SES and poor school neighbourhood SES were associated with an increased risk of being a bully or bully-victim. Parental educational level was the only indicator of SES related with victimization. The influence of school neighbourhood SES on bullying attenuated to statistical non-significance once adjusted for family SES.


Bullying and victimization are already common problems in early elementary school. Children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families, rather than children visiting schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, have a particularly high risk of involvement in bullying. These findings suggest the need of timely bullying preventions and interventions that should have a special focus on children of families with a low socioeconomic background. Future studies are necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of such programs.

Bullying; Victimization; Socioeconomic status; Children