Ethnic Diversity and Bullying in School: a Systematic Review


Maria Chiara Basilici, University of Florence, Italy
Benedetta Emanuela Palladino, University of Florence, Italy
Ersilia Menesini, University of Florence, Italy


Despite the increasing presence of ethnic diversity at schools, findings on the impact of multi-ethnic classrooms and schools on social interactions are not yet clear. On one hand, some studies showed that the more diverse a school is, the more bullying occurs (Jansen et al., 2016; Tolsma et al., 2013), in line with the Intergroup Conflict Theory (Turner et al., 1979) and the Social Dominance Theory (Sidanius et al., 1994). On the other hand, researchers pointed out the role of ethnic classroom or school diversity as a protective factor against bullying (Bellmore et al., 2012; Closson et al., 2016; Juvonen et al., 2006). These studies are in line with the Contact Hypothesis (Allport, 1954).

Upon these considerations, the aim of the study was to conduct a systematic review in order to examine the association between school and/or classroom ethnic diversity and bullying perpetration and victimization. Since the literature has shown mixed results, we considered possible moderating factors such as the geographical area where data have been collected, the operationalization of the definition of ethnicity (i.e., based on immigrant background vs race), how ethnic diversity was computed (i.e., a composite proportion index vs percentage/proportion), and school level (i.e., primary vs secondary schools).


The systematic review search was conducted in January 2021, following the PRISMA guidelines (Moher et al., 2009) across three databases (Scopus, Web of Science, and Eric databases). From the initial identification of 4496 articles, a final set of 20 papers was selected. Finally, 13 analyses on ethnic diversity and bullying perpetration and 33 analyses on ethnic diversity and bullying victimization were highlighted.


Almost half of the analyses found no significant association between bullying perpetration and ethnic diversity, while the other half found a positive one; few studies found a positive association between ethnic diversity and victimization. The operationalization of ethnicity and the area of data collection play a role in both bullying perpetration and victimization. In North America, focusing on race, ethnic diversity has shown a protective role for victimization; in Europe, where the focus is on immigrant backgrounds, diversity may be a risk factor. Regarding victimization, ethnic diversity is a risk factor at younger ages and turns into a more protective factor in secondary schools.


The present systematic review showed the need for further research into the relationship between ethnic diversity and bullying in school. Additionally, it highlighted the possible role of operationalizing ethnicity in catching specific processes affecting ethnic diversity and bullying.


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