Physical Fighting by Youth

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Key facts about physical fighting among youth

  • In 2017, about one in four high school students (24 percent) reported being in a physical fight in the past year, a continued decrease from the 1991 high of 43 percent.
  • Male students are more likely to report being in a physical fight than their female peers, at 30 percent and 17 percent, respectively, in 2017.
  • In 2017, non-Hispanic black students reported the highest rates of being in a physical fight, followed by their Hispanic and non-Hispanic white peers, at 33 percent, 26 percent, and 21 percent, respectively.
  • Younger students report higher rates of being in a physical fight than their older peers, with 28 percent of ninth graders reporting being in a fight, compared with 26 percent of tenth graders, 20 percent of eleventh graders, and 18 percent of twelfth graders.

Trends in physical fighting among youth

The share of students in grades 9 through 12 who had been in at least one physical fight in the past year declined from 43 percent in 1991 to 33 percent in 2001. The proportion then remained steady (32 to 36 percent) until 2011. Since then, there have been notable declines in this percentage, from 33 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2017 (Appendix 1).


Differences by gender

Male high school students report being in a physical fight at higher rates than their female peers. In 2017, 30 percent of males reported physical fighting, compared with 17 percent of females. This pattern is consistent across race, ethnicity, and grade level (Appendix 1).


Differences by race and Hispanic origin

Among male high school students in 2017, non-Hispanic white and Hispanic students reported lower rates of being in a physical fight than their non-Hispanic black peers (29 and 30 percent, respectively, versus 37 percent). Among females, non-Hispanic black students reported the highest rates of physical fighting (29 percent), followed by Hispanic students (21 percent) and non-Hispanic white students (14 percent) (Appendix 1).


Differences by grade

The prevalence of physical fighting generally decreases with age. Among females in 2017, ninth-grade students reported higher rates than tenth-grade students (23 and 18 percent, respectively), and tenth-grade students reported higher rates than their eleventh- and twelfth-grade peers (18, 15, and 12 percent, respectively). Among males, twelfth-grade students reported the lowest rates of physical fighting over the last year (24 percent), compared with 34 percent among ninth graders, 35 percent among tenth graders, and 26 percent among eleventh graders (Appendix 1).


Other estimates

State and local estimates

2015 estimates of fighting among high school students (Grades 9–12) are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) at

International estimates

Estimates of fighting among 11-, 13-, and 15-year-olds in select countries can be found in the 2013/2014 Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) study: World Health Organization. (2016). Growing Up Unequal: gender and socioeconomic difference in young people’s health and well-being. Health policy for children and adolescents, 7, 270. Copenhagen, Denmark: Author. Retrieved from

Data and appendices

Data source

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). 1991–2017 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey [Data tool]. Retrieved from

Raw data source

Youth Risk Behavior Survey.


Appendix 1. Percentage of Students in Grades 9–12 Who Reported Being in a Physical Fight in the Past Year: Selected Years, 1991–2017



Physical fighting is defined as being in a physical fight one or more times in the year preceding this survey, according to students’ reports.

In 2017, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming did not conduct a YRBS and thus were not included.


[1] Hispanic students may be of any race. Totals for white and black students in this report do not include Hispanic students.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2018). Physical fighting by youth. Retrieved from

Last updated: August 2018