The relationship between bullying behaviours and high school dropout in Cape Town, South Africa

Loraine Townsend, Alan J. Flisher, Perpetual Chikobvu, Carl Lombard, Gary King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Bullying is generally defined as largely unprovoked, negative physical or psychological actions perpetrated repeatedly over time between bully/ies and victims. Bullying can lead to fear of school, absenteeism, and stunted academic progress, which in turn are precursors to dropping out of school. This paper's aim is to report rates of bullying behaviour, and to investigate whether bullying behaviour predicts high school dropout in Cape Town, South Africa. Stratified, proportional sampling yielded 39 from a total of 214 schools, from which 40 learners were randomly selected from the combined class list of two, randomly chosen, Grade 8 classes in each of the 39 participating schools. Thus 1 470 learners (from a total of 181 018) completed a self-report questionnaire in 1997, and were followed-up in 2001. This report focuses on those learners who had dropped out of school between 1997 and 2001 (n = 776; 55.2%). Univariate and multiple logistic regression models were used to investigate the relationship between bullying behaviours and dropout, controlling for factors known to be strongly related to high school dropout, namely age, socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity, being raised by a single parent, repeating a grade, and substance use. Odds ratios and 95 per cent confidence intervals were calculated, taking the clustering of schools into account. In 1997, 52% of the boys and 37% of the girls had been involved in bullying behaviours. Of the three bullying categories (bully, victim, and bully-victim), girls but not boys in the 'bully-victim' category were significantly more likely to drop out of school (OR 1.82; Cl 1.09-3.04, and when controlling for confounders OR 2.60; Cl 1.32-5.10). The pervasiveness of both high school dropout and bullying behaviour points to an urgent need for future research, and intervention in these areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-32
Number of pages12
JournalSouth African Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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