February 28, 2022 View/share from our web page

Bullying in school hampers skill development, healthy adulthood

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Key research finding

Miguel Sarzosa, an assistant professor of economics in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, finds that victimization depletes an average middle school child’s noncognitive skills by 40%. This skill depletion causes the child to become 34% more likely to experience bullying again.

While bullying negatively impacts the development of both cognitive and noncognitive skills, the effects of victimization are much more severe for noncognitive skill accumulation.

Noncognitive skills — also referred to as socioemotional or soft skills — include the ability to recognize and control emotions and reactions, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and set and achieve positive goals.

Sarzosa finds that children who start middle school with less developed noncognitive skills are more likely to be bullied – those scoring in the bottom 10% for noncognitive skills are twice as likely to be bullied than those in the top 10% and 36% more likely to be bullied than the average student.

This snowball effect can continue into adulthood and puts those who experience bullying at higher risk for depression, substance abuse and suicidal ideation.

Sarzosa points to two tools to reduce victimization’s negative effects: Invest in helping children develop noncognitive skills at a younger age, and be mindful of classroom composition as students benefit from having peers that share common characteristics. For each additional classroom peer with similar characteristics, victimization drops by about 10%.

More information is available online: Bullying in school hampers skill development, healthy adulthood

Purdue professor’s expertise

Sarzosa’s research fields are applied microeconomics and labor economics. His main research focuses on the effect skill endowments have on in-school victimization and workplace discrimination.

Journal name

The Journal of Human Resources Abstract is available online: Victimization and Skill Accumulation: The Case of School Bullying

Full Research Article is also available via link but requires a login/account. Pdf available to share.


No external funding was used for this study.

Brief summary of methods

Sarzosa considers the cognitive and noncognitive skill sets and skill accumulation processes of 3,449 school-aged children, interviewed over six years, as part of the Junior High School Panel of the Korean Youth Panel Survey.

Sarzosa measures noncognitive skills using scales of locus of control, responsibility and self-esteem. Cognitive skills are measured through academic performance on math, science and language, and a comprehensive end-of-year exam. 

Writer: Wolf Williams, Purdue University Research Center in Economics Communications Specialist

Media contact: Amy Patterson Neubert, apatterson@purdue.edu 

Source: Miguel Sarzosa, msarzosa@purdue.edu