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Popularity makes teens a bullying target

Increasing popularity makes teens a target for bullying according to new research conducted by Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis, published in the April 1, 2014, issue of the journal American Sociological Review.

Olympic boxer Marlen Esparza attends HBO Latino Knocks-Out Bullying at Sidney Lanier High School Alumni Center on August 30, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas.
Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for HBO

The researchers found that the possibility that a teen will be bullied in high school rises with popularity as much as 25 percent for those considered to be in the upper 95 percent of the school hierarchy. Teens above the 95 percent level of the school hierarchy were not as likely to be bullied.

The study is based on the responses of 4,200 students at 19 public schools in three counties in North Carolina during the 2004 through 2005 school year and was part of the Context of Adolescent Substance Use survey.

The research runs contrary to the concept that most socially marginalized students are the victims of bullying.

One of the major reasons the researchers propose as a cause of the bullying of socially prominent people is a classic struggle for status. Those few who are in the top levels of popularity that did experience bullying were more likely to demonstrate more dramatic and long-term effects from bullying than teens that occupied the lower ranks of social status in high school.