U.S. Might Take Pride in These Rankings

By Christina A. Samuels — February 07, 2006 1 min read

An international study of youth violence has found that close to half of adolescent boys in the United States, and a quarter of adolescent girls, reported being involved in a physical fight in the year before the survey.

The study was included in the Health Behavior in School-aged Children Survey, conducted every four years by the World Health Organization in Geneva. Thirty-five European and North American countries, including the United States and Canada, participate in the survey of 11-, 13-, and 15-year-olds.

Adolescent Violence

Percentage of youths in European and North American countries who said they fought at least once in the previous year.

1 Czech Republich 69.1% 1 Hungary 32.1%
2 Lithuania 66.6% 2 Estonia 31.6%
3 Russia 65.4% 3 Lithuania 31.4%
4 Hungary 64.6% 4 Belgium (French) 31.2%
5 Estonia 64.1% 5 England 29.2%
29 United States 47.8% 11 United States 25.0%

SOURCE: World Health Organization

The survey was conducted during 2001 and 2002. In the Czech Republic, which reported the highest rate of fighting among boys, 69 percent reported being involved in at least one fight in the previous year; in Finland, which reported the lowest number of fights, the figure was 37 percent. The United States ranked 29th, with 48 percent, lower than the average of 58 percent for all boys surveyed.

Girls fought far less than boys. Girls in Hungary led the list, reporting that about 32 percent of them had been involved in fights. American girls ranked fairly high at 11th, with 25 percent reporting fights, slightly higher than the overall average of 24 percent.

Among boys and girls, the rates of fighting dropped as adolescents grew older.

“Differences in rates of fighting between countries likely reflect underlying cultural differences in the acceptance of violence with different societies,” said the report, which appeared in the December 2005 issue of Pediatrics. “In a war-torn country, fighting may be viewed as a normative behavior that is observed on a daily basis as an inherent part of basic survival.”

Peter C. Scheidt, a medical officer with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a part of the National Institutes of Health, participated in an earlier version of the survey. One result he found noteworthy is that boys in Sweden, a democratic, homogeneous country that values non-violence, fight just about as much as boys in the United States. In Sweden, 49.8 percent of boys reported being in at least one fight the year before the survey.

While fighting should be controlled by adults, and frequent fighting is a warning sign for other mental and physical problems in adolescents, occasional fights “seem like this is typical growing up behavior that the kids go through,” Dr. Scheidt said.