U.S. Youth No More Likely to Engage in Violence Than Youth In Four Other Countries
The results of an international survey show that young adolescents
in the United States are no more likely to engage in violent behavior
than are youth in 4 other countries. The survey was coordinated
by the World Health Organization and the U.S. participation was
funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
of the National Institutes of Health.
The study authors noted, however, that their findings fail to explain
international statistics showing that U.S. youth are more likely
to die of violent causes than are youth in other developed countries.
"Even though our youth are no more likely to fight than are
youth in the other developed countries in the study, they're still
more likely to die of violent causes" said Duane Alexander,
M.D., director of the NICHD. "We now need to find the reasons
for these deaths and find ways to prevent them."
The findings appear in the June issue of The Archives of Pediatrics
and Adolescent Medicine. The current study is an analysis of
information obtained from the World Health Organization's survey,
Health Behavior in School-Aged Children. The study's first author
is Eleanor Smith-Khuri, of NICHD's Division of Epidemiology, Statistics
and Prevention Research.
The study authors wrote that, according to World Health Organization
(WHO) statistics, U.S. adolescents are more likely to die of violent
causes than are youth from other developed countries. (These statistics
are available at http://www3.who.int/whosis/mort/table1.cfm?path=whosis.)
"An important question raised by our findings is why violence-related
mortality in the United States is substantially higher than countries
in which the rates of nonfatal violent behaviors (fighting, weapon
carrying, and injuries from fighting) in young adolescents are extremely
similar," the authors wrote.
One explanation they offered is that U.S. adolescents are likely
to have access to more lethal weapons than are youth in the other
countries. Another explanation is that American youth have different
attitudes toward life and death than do youth in other countries.
The authors cited a World Health Organization study, which reported
that American youth are more likely to believe it's appropriate
to kill to protect their property than were youth in Estonia, Finland,
Romania, and Russia. Similarly, the cited study noted reports that
adolescents in the United States are more likely to approve of war
than were youth in any of those countries.
The researchers began the study to determine whether some degree
of youth violence is a normal, expected, aspect of human development
or whether it is influenced by cultural factors. To conduct their
analysis, the researchers tabulated survey responses from adolescents
in the United States and in Ireland, Israel, Portugal, and Sweden.
Survey questions dealing with violent behavior asked how often adolescents
fought, how many days a month they carried a weapon, how many times
per year they were injured from fighting, and how many times per
school term that they had bullied another student. The researchers
in the respective countries surveyed three groups of adolescents
whose average ages were 11 and a half, 13 and a half, and 15 and
For the American adolescents, 60.2 percent had not been involved
in a fight during the previous year. Likewise, an average of 60.2
percent of youth in the five countries combined had not been involved
in a fight during the same time period. Similarly, 89 percent of
U.S. youths had not carried a weapon in the previous year, identical
to the average percentage of youth in the five countries combined
who had not carried a weapon in the previous year. In the U.S.,
84.5 percent of U.S. youth said they had not been injured in a fight
during the previous year, while the average for all five countries
combined was 84.6 percent.
Of the youth involved in fighting, most fought only occasionally.
The rates for occasional fighting were similar for all the countries
Occasional fighting, a common behavior among the study
youth, is part of the normal but not necessarily desirable developmental
process of adolescents," the study authors wrote. "In
contrast, weapon carrying and injuries from fighting are not."
In contrast to the statistics on fighting, the statistics on bullying
varied greatly among the countries in the survey. Israeli students
were the most likely to have been bullied in the last school term
(42.9 percent) and Swedish students were the least likely (14.8
percent). In the U.S., about 41 percent of student said they had
been bullied in the last school term.
These statistical differences may reflect education campaigns to
prevent bullying, explained another author of the paper, Peter Schiedt,
M.D., M.P.H., a medical officer in NICHD's Division of Epidemiology,
Statistics and Prevention Research. The Scandinavian countries recognized
the problem of bullying in school age children before most other
countries did and were the first to begin national educational efforts
against bullying, he added. Dr. Scheidt said that these differences
suggest that bullying may be amenable to national programs to reduce
this violence-related behavior.
Regarding high profile school killings in the United States, the
authors noted that one study reported that the most common motive
for school shootings was revenge for having been bullied or ridiculed
by other students.
"We hope that the wide range of cross-national bullying rates
indicates that country-specific factors, such as the sociopolitical
environment, play a significant role in bullying prevalence and
that intervention-prevention programs can reduce both adolescent
bullying and its associated violence rates," the study authors
The study also confirmed earlier findings that youth who smoke,
drink alcohol, and have been victims of bullying are also more likely
to be involved in violent behaviors.
The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
the biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is an
agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The
NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth;
maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population
issues; and medical rehabilitation. NICHD publications, as well
as information about the Institute, are available from the NICHD
Web site, http://www.nichd.nih.gov,
or from the NICHD Information Resource Center, 1-800-370-2943; e-mail