People who suffered bullying as seven and 11-year-olds were disadvantaged physically, psychologically and mentally at age 50, researchers found.
Not only were they at greater risk of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, but they had difficulty with social relationships and attained lower educational standards.
They also earned less, were more likely to be unemployed, and were in poorer health than those who escaped bullying.
Fewer bullied individuals were in a relationship or had good social support, and more of them reported having a lower quality of life.
Dr Ryu Takizawa, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “Our study shows that the effects of bullying are still visible nearly four decades later.
“The impact of bullying is persistent and pervasive, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood.”
The findings come from the British National Child Development Study which includes information on all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958.
Dr Takizawa’s team analysed data on 7,771 children whose parents provided information on their children’s exposure to bullying at ages seven and 11.
Just over a quarter of the children (28%) were said to have been bullied occasionally, with 15% suffering frequent bullying. Similar bullying rates still apply in the UK today.
The results of the study are published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Senior author Professor Louise Arseneault, also from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, said: “We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing up. Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children.
“Programmes to stop bullying are extremely important, but we also need to focus our efforts on early intervention to prevent potential problems persisting into adolescence and adulthood.”
She added: “Forty years is a long time, so there will no doubt be additional experiences during the course of these young people’s lives which may either protect them against the effects of bullying, or make things worse. Our next step is to investigate what these are.”