Characteristics of young people affected by bullying

characteristics of young people affected by bullying

Anyone can be subject to bullying, and the range of characteristics of young people who suffer from bullying can be wide and complex. However, research reveals a number of themes that may mark a young person out as being different to others.

For example, the Department for Education analysed the bullying experiences of young people in the Longitudinal Study of Young People, and found that the following characteristics were associated with bullying (Green et al, 2010):

  • Gender - girls were more likely to be bullied than boys at the age of 14-15. Girls were more likely to report verbal bullying and boys were morel likely to report physical bullying.
  • Ethnicity - minority ethnic groups were less likely to be bullied than white young people.
  • Religion - young people who reported religion was important to them were more likely to report being called name than other young people
  • SEN - young people with Special Educational Needs are more likely to report 'all types of bullying at all ages'
  • Disabilities - young people were more likely to report all types of bullying, particularly likely to be forced to hand over their money or possessions
  • Being in care - there was a strong relationship between being in care and being bullied, and this increased with age.
  • Family structure - young people in step families were more likely to be bullied
  • Pathways after 16 - young people who reported being bullied at this age were more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment, or training) than those who were not bullied. 

Please see below for more research on specific types of bullying.

LGB Bullying

Henderson’s (2015) research used a longitudinal study called Next Steps to examine the relationship between sexual identity and experiences of bullying. During schooling, LGB young people had a 56% chance of having ever been bullied in the previous 12 months, compared to heterosexual young people who had a 45% chance.

LGB young people had a 17% chance of being bullied frequently during schooling, while heterosexual young people had a 6% chance.

SEND bullying

Chatzitheochari et al’s (2015) research used two longitudinal studies: Next Steps, which tracks 16,000 people born in England between 1989-1990 and the Millennium Cohort Study which tracks 19,000 UK children born between 2000/2001. The study found that 12% of seven-year-olds with special needs felt bullied all the time, compared with 6% of non-disabled peers. They found there was "substantially higher risks of being bullied 'all the time' for disabled children compared to non-disabled children".

The study’s author claims "We know that being bullied contributes to social inequalities later in life - people who were victims in childhood often grow up to have low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and perform less well in the labour market than their peers… These findings suggest that bullying reinforces the inequalities experienced by disabled people, putting them at a double disadvantage."

Poverty-based bullying

Gibb et al (2016) used the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) is a longitudinal cohort study which follows a large sample of children (19,000) who were born in the UK in 2000/2001. They aimed to find out what role, if any, does low income play in shaping the quality of children’s relationships with parents, peers, and siblings? They found that compared to other children, those with experience of poverty were:

  • More likely to often fall out with friends
  • More likely to fight with or bully others
  • More likely to be (frequently) bullied
  • More likely to play alone
  • Less likely to have a good friend
  • Less likely to be liked by other children)
  • Less likely to talk to their friends about their worries

Their research confirms that poverty isn’t the only determinant of ‘satisfactory or problematic personal and social relationships’. The vast majority of children report high levels of satisfaction with their families and friendships. Bullying, falling out with friends, and speaking to others about personal issues affect children living in affluent families as well as those in low income homes.

However, children living in poverty are more likely to experience some of these problems more than their affluent counterparts. This may be because of “their exposure to other, interrelated, risk factors. However, there is evidence that some of these factors, such as maternal mental health problems and adverse parenting practices, may themselves be directly influenced by poverty (Cooper and Stewart 2013)”.


Henderson, M. (2015) Understanding bullying experiences among sexual minority youths in England. CLS Working Paper 2015/8. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

Chatzitheochari, S. et al. (2015) Doubly Disadvantaged? Bullying Experiences among Disabled Children and Young People in England. Sociology (online first).

Jen Gibb, Katie Rix, Emma Wallace, Emla Fitzsimons and Tarek Mostafa (2016) Poverty and children’s personal and social relationships Secondary analysis of Millennium Cohort Study data, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. NCB Research centre.

Green et al. (2010) Characteristics of bullying victims in schools. Department for Education.