One year of bullying in Swedish schools will continue to cost the society about 17.5 billion SEK in the following 30 years. This is the conclusion of a socio-economic study conducted by the economist Ingvar Nilsson and his colleagues on behalf of Friends.

– The economic costs are not really what interests us. The highest price is paid in human suffering, by the children subjected to bullying and degrading treatment. But when our politicians receive figures on the economic loss of society due to bullying, there is an increased pressure on them to act, says Friends’ Secretary General Lars Arrhenius.

Friends engaged the economist Ingvar Nilsson and his team for this assessment, a group that has done socio-economic estimations and developed their methods for the past 30 years. They have looked at the different costs bullying generates for different actors in society – school, municipality, county or state – both short term and long term.

Friends has also developed a web-based tool where you can calculate the costs for specific municipalities and counties in Sweden. The tool also allows you to see how much bullying in general costs schools, depending on their number of students. You can find the tool at Mobbningenskostnader.se (only in Swedish).

The report’s most important conclusions:

  • The bullying affecting students in Sweden during one year costs Swedish society about 17.5 billion SEK (approximately 1.9 billion EUR or 2 billion USD) for the following 30 years. For a municipality with about 50,000 people the cost would be about 81 million SEK (approximately 8.6 million EUR or 9.3 million USD). In Sweden, 60 000 children and adolescents are subjected to bullying every year.
  • Bullying that occurs for one year in a school with approximately 1,000 students, costs society about 14 million SEK (approximately 1.5 million EUR or 1.6 million USD) during the following 30 years. The same amount of money would pay for 25 annual salaries for counselors, teachers or school nurses.
  • Because the costs are not immediate there is a risk that the proper measures to fight bullying is not taken. Stretching the example, this means that the principal has to pay for the preventive effort, while the head of the municipality’s social services or the political majority in the county are the ones who gain from the profit made, five or twenty years later.

Friends’ suggestions:

1. Establish a state fund which economically supports the principal organizer of the school with efforts to create a safe and secure environment. The principal organizer of the school is obliged to follow the Swedish Education Act. Our calculations show that it is the principal organizer who finance the investments of the preventive work, while the state and the county make the largest long-term savings. Therefore, the state should share this economic responsibility.

2. Demand that all principal organizers regularly measure and account for what the situation of bullying and degrading treatment looks like in their school. This would lead to increased knowledge about the challenges in the school, and it would be easier for the school to highlight good examples. At the same time, schools with large problems will get a clear status report, leading to better identification of suitable actions.

3. Prioritize efforts to create a safe and secure environment both in the education of teachers and the teachers’ professional development. Efforts to create a safe and secure environment are essential competences and abilities that students who study to become teachers have to master in order to get their degree. However, not all teachers feel that they have gained enough knowledge and competence to counter degrading treatment and bullying. Among those who has been teaching for ten years or less, three in ten say that they lack this competence. In Sweden, teachers have the right to be provided with the tools needed to follow the requirements of the Swedish Education Act.

4. Strengthen the Swedish Education Act regarding the maximum amount of students a school counselor is responsible for. According to the Swedish Education Act’s chapter 2 “there must exist a student health service”, and “the student health service should primarily be preventive and promote good health”. Today, the school counselors’ preventive work too often becomes an exception. The Union for Professionals (Akademikerförbundet SSR) has shown that when the number of students per counselor exceeds 300, the possibility to work preventative in a satisfying way decreases. Approximately nine in ten counselors describe their work to be, to some extent, “steered by emergencies”, according to an investigation by Novus. The counselors must get better chances to prioritize their preventive work.

– We have to start thinking about long term solutions. Our study confirms that Sweden cannot afford the enormous costs of bullying – neither human, nor economic, says Lars Arrhenius.

Read The Cost of Bullying (pdf)