Background Although bullying and delinquency share similar risk factors, no previous systematic review has ever been conducted to examine possible links between school bullying and criminal offending later in life.
Aims To investigate the extent to which bullying perpetration at school predicts offending later in life, and whether this relation holds after controlling for other major childhood risk factors.
Method Results are based on a thorough systematic review and meta-analysis of studies measuring school bullying and later offending. Effect sizes are based on both published and unpublished studies; longitudinal investigators of 28 studies have conducted specific analyses for our review.
Results The probability of offending up to 11 years later was much higher for school bullies than for non-involved students [odds ratio (OR) = 2.50; 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.03–3.08]. Bullying perpetration was a significant risk factor for later offending, even after controlling for major childhood risk factors (OR = 1.82, 95% CI: 1.55–2.14). Effect sizes were smaller when the follow-up period was longer and larger when bullying was assessed in older children. The age of participants when outcome measures were taken was negatively related with effect sizes. Finally, the summary effect size did not decrease much as the number of controlled risk factors increased.
Conclusions School bullying is a strong and specific risk factor for later offending. Effective anti-bullying programmes should be promoted, and could be viewed as a form of early crime prevention. Such programmes would have a high benefit : cost ratio. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.