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Violence among adolescents: fighting with same-ethnic peers more prevalent than with outgroup members

A sociological study has shown that conflicts between members of different ethnic groups at secondary schools are rare and that fights occur more often among members of the same group / publication in Social Networks

Physical violence in schools is relatively rare between pupils of different ethnic origins. That is the conclusion of the sociological study ‘Who is fighting with whom? How ethnic origin shapes friendship, dislike, and physical violence relations in German secondary schools’ conducted by Mark Wittek, Clemens Kroneberg and Kathrin Lämmermann at the University of Cologne. The study surveyed over 2,500 seventh-grade pupils at 39 comprehensive, secondary and lower secondary schools in five cities in the Ruhr area between 2013 and 2016. The results have been published in the journal Social Networks.
The study examines the role of ethnic background for friendship, dislike, and violence networks in secondary school. Previous research had found that violence tends to occur more often in schools with ethnically separated friendship networks. Social scientists tended to interpret this as a sign that ethnic groups are likely to quarrel with each other – for example over who dominates the schoolyard – and that a lack of interethnic friendships leads to a stronger animosity towards members of an outgroup. However, the results of the new study show that for the most part violence occurs within groups of friends.
Professor Clemens Kroneberg heads the Project ‘Freundschaft und Gewalt im Jugendalter’ (Friendship and violence in adolescence), which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the Project SOCIALBOND, which is funded by the European Research Council. He said: ‘Individual incidents or increases in school violence are often interpreted as a result of ethnic diversity and inter-ethnic tensions. Depending on a person’s political orientation, pupils with a migration background are either suspected of being perpetrators or victims of violence. However, our analysis shows that violence among pupils of different ethnic backgrounds is the exception. Particularly in schools, where ethnic groups tend to remain among themselves, violence is more prevalent within than among these groups.’
An important reason for this is that students who are friends or have common friends spend more free time together. They are therefore more likely to find themselves in situations of provocation, status struggle and physical confrontation.
The results of the study illustrate the so-called ‘integration paradox’ using the example of violence: with progressing integration, arguments also increase. Schools in which physical conflicts between young people of different ethnic origins are particularly rare tend to be characterized by ethnically separated groups of friends and antipathy between young people of different origins.
In general, the closer young people are to each other in the friendship network, the more likely violence becomes. On the other hand, antipathy – not liking a classmate – becomes more probable the further away individual adolescents are from each other in friendship networks.
Violence among friends is rare in absolute terms – it occurs in only six percent of all friendships. But at least 20 percent of all relationships in which physical conflicts sometimes occur are friendships.
In general, physical violence is still relatively widespread in the seventh grades studied: Almost half of the respondents can be described as perpetrators of physical violence. However, almost 40 percent are neither involved as perpetrators nor as victims. In addition, the level of violence decreased continuously up to the tenth grade in the course of the survey’s timeframe.
Media Contact:
Professor Dr Clemens Kroneberg
Chair of Sociology I, DFG Project ‘Friendship and violence in adolescence’, ERC Starting Grant Project SOCIALBOND
Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology (ISS)


Mark Wittek, Clemens Kroneberg, Kathrin Lämmermann, 2019: ‘Who is fighting with whom? How ethnic origin shapes friendship, dislike, and physical violence relations in German secondary schools’, Social Networks.

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