Methods: This study used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal birth cohort study of 4,898 births in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000. The study sample (n=2,894) was drawn from Waves 5 and 6, when the child was roughly 9 and 15 years respectively. Approximately half of the sample was female, half identified as Black, 31% were born to mothers without a high school degree, one-quarter was born to married parents, most were born to mothers who were U.S. citizens (86%), and 34% were living below the poverty line at birth.
Cross-lagged panel analysis was used to compared four latent variable models: (1) baseline with autoregressive paths; (2) autoregressive effects and school connectedness predicting later bullying; (3) autoregressive effects and bullying predicting later school connectedness; and, (4) cross-lagged with autoregressive effects and both school connectedness and bullying predicting each other at a later time point. Maximum likelihood estimation was used to test the models.
Results: Results for Model 1 indicated strong autoregressive effects for both school connectedness and peer bullying, demonstrating robust temporal stability. Model 3 (bullying predicting future school connectedness) was found to provide a significantly better fit to the data than the baseline model. Model 3 included statistically significant factor loadings for connectedness items and bullying items (ranging from .31 to .73) for each measure relative to its hypothesized latent factor, and the autoregressive paths for the variables were relatively strong, indicating that the measurement models were stable over time. Importantly, the cross-lagged effect of bullying at Time 1 on connectedness at Time 2 was statistically significant. However, results comparing the fully cross-lagged model did not indicate a better fit to the data compared to Model 3. Taken together, these data suggest that Model 3 was more parsimonious and fit the data better than competing models.
Implications: These results suggest that peer bullying at Year 9 predicts school connectedness at Year 15; however, there is no evidence that school connectedness at Year 9 predicts peer bullying at Year 15. These results suggest that early intervention to address bullying at a younger age can impact later levels of school connectedness, however more research is needed in this area to explore possible confounds in this relationship. This study contributes to the knowledge base on the effects of peer bullying and suggest that poor school connectedness is a likely outcome in the absence of timely bullying interventions.