Do Anti-Bullying Laws Work?

Joseph J. Sabia, San Diego State University
Brittany Bass, University of California, Irvine

Using data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys and the Uniform Crime Reports, this study is the first to examine the effect of state anti-bullying laws (ABLs) on school safety, crime, and human capital acquisition. While the typical ABL has little effect on these outcomes, we find that the strict enforcement of “high intensity” ABLs—as rated by the U.S. Department of Education—are associated with a substantial 11.5 to 21.3 percent reduction in school violence and a 15.6 to 22.0 percent reduction in property and violent crime arrests for those ages 13-to-17. A causal interpretation of our results is supported by their robustness to the inclusion of controls for state-specific time trends and policy leads, as well as falsification tests on older young adults ages 21-to-29 for whom ABLs do not bind. However, we find little evidence that ABLs are associated with consistent improvements in youths’ psychological health or academic performance.

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Presented in Session 53: Policy Influences on Adolescent Health