About one in four high school students reports having been in a physical fight in the past year. The proportion of students in grades 9-12 who had been in at least one physical fight in the past year has decreased from 43 percent in 1991 to 23 percent in 2015, the lowest figure since these reports began.
Physical fighting by youth can lead to serious injury and even death., Injuries incurred in physical fighting during adolescence, for example, can result in significant losses in verbal intelligence. Risk factors that predict violence by youth include substance abuse, conflict and abuse at home, harsh or inattentive parenting, antisocial and delinquent peers, and neighborhoods where crime and drug use are prevalent. Youth who are involved in physical fighting are also often engaged in other high-risk activities, such as bullying, cigarette smoking, and alcohol use.
Youth attending schools where fighting is common may be unable to maintain the focus necessary for academic success. Adolescents who are victims of violence are also more likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence during adulthood. The likelihood of drug use, property offenses, and stress during adulthood also all increase in association with youth violence.
A high grade-point average, religiosity, and connectedness to family and peers have all been cited as protective factors against youth violence.
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 remained steady until 2011, between 32 and 36 percent. However, between 2011 and 2015 the proportion decreased markedly, from 33 to 23 percent. (Figure 1)
Differences by Gender
Male high school students are more likely than female students to be in a physical fight. In 2015, 28 percent of males reported physical fighting, compared with 17 percent of females. (Figure 1) This pattern is consistent across race, ethnicity, and grade level. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
In 2015, among male high school students, white students were less likely than black students to report physically fighting (27 versus 39 percent). Among females, black students were the most likely to report physically fighting (25 percent), followed by Hispanic students (19 percent), and white students (14 percent). (Figure 2)
Differences by Grade
The prevalence of physical fighting generally decreases with age. Among females in 2015, ninth- grade students were more likely than tenth-grade students to report being in a physical fight in the past year (23 and 18 percent, respectively), and tenth-grade students were more likely to report being in a physical fight than eleventh- and twelfth-grade students (18, 13, and 12 percent, respectively). Among males, twelfth-grade students were less likely than their younger peers to report physically fighting: 23 percent, compared with 33 percent among ninth-graders and 30 percent among tenth-graders. There was no difference in physical fighting between males in eleventh and twelfth grades. (Appendix 1)
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) (Tables 13 and 14).
Estimates of fighting among 15-year-olds in 33 European countries can be found in a summary of the results of the 2009/2010 Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, Health and Policy for Children and Adolescents, no. 6 (page 185).
Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set a national goal to reduce physical fighting in the previous 12 months, as reported by youth in grades 9 through 12, from 31.5 percent in 2009 to 28.4 percent by 2020.
More information available here. (goal IVP 34)
What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator
See Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective:
- Aban Aya Youth Project
- Cognitive-Behavioral Training Program for Behaviorally Disordered Adolescents
- Resolve It, Solve It
- Second Step
- Strengthening Families Program
- Children’s Exposure to Violence
- Unsafe at School
- Victims of Hate Speech
- High School Students Carrying Weapons
- Violent Crime Victimization
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 2015, students from Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin were not included.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 3/9/2017. Retrieved from http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Raw Data Source
Youth Risk Behavior Survey
Appendix 1 – Percentage of High School Students1 Who Report Being in a Physical Fight in the Past Year2: Selected Years, 1991-2015
|1 Estimates do not include youth who dropped out of school and therefore may not reflect total national values. In 2015, students from Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin were not included.
2 One or more times during the 12 months preceding the survey.
3 Race/ethnicity estimates from 1999 and later are not directly comparable to earlier years due to federal changes in race definitions. In surveys conducted in 1999 and later, respondents were allowed to select more than one race when selecting their racial category. Estimates presented only include respondents who selected one category when choosing their race.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 3/9/2017. Retrieved from http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Kachur, S. P., Stennies, G. M., Powell, K. E., Modzeleski, W., Stephens, R., Murphy, R., Kresnow M, Sleet, D., & Lowry, R. (1996). School-associated violent deaths in the United States, 1992 to 1994. JAMA, 275(22), 1729-1733.
Pickett, W., Craig, W., Harel, Y., Cunningham, J., Simpson, K., Molcho, M., Mazur J, Dostaler, S., Overpeck, M. D., & Currie, C. E. (2005). Cross-national study of fighting and weapon carrying as determinants of adolescent injury. Pediatrics, 116(6), e855-e863.
Schwartz, J. A., & Beaver, K. M. (2013). Serious fighting-related injuries produce a significant reduction in intelligence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(4), 520–525
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, SAMHSA. (2001). Youth violence: A report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44294/
Smith-Khuri, E., Scheidt, P. C., Overpeck, M. D., Gabhainn, S. N., Pickett, W., & Harel, Y. (2004). A cross-national study of violence-related behaviors in adolescents. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 158, 539-544.
Kaufman, P., Chen, X., Choy, S.P., Peter, K., Ruddy, S.A., Miller, A.K., Fleury, J.K., Chandler, K.A., Planty, M.G., & Rand, M.R. (2001). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2001. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education & Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2002113
Menard, S. (2002). Short and long term consequences of adolescent victimization. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/yv_2002_2_1/contents.html
Menard, S. (2002). Op. cit.
Child Trends Databank. (2017). Physical fighting by youth. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=physical-fighting-by-youth
Last updated: April 2017