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Boys vs. Girls in the Battle Over Self-Esteem

The developmental period for students has long been considered a period of distress and frustration.  It seems that student personalities may play a larger role in the subsequent self-esteem than previously thought.  A longitudinal study focusing on students at 14, 18, and 23, suggests just this and that there are significant differences in self-esteem during each of these three time points (Block & Robbins, 1993).

The results of this study show a significant decrease in self-esteem over time for females and an increase in self-esteem for males.  It is interesting to note that while there were significant differences between gender in self-esteem, there were not significant differences in ethnicity, nor in socioeconomic status.

male vs female

What I found particularly interesting about this article were the individual personality characteristics which correlated with a higher self-esteem for the various genders.  Here are just a few of them:

Personality Characteristics Predicative of Change in Self-Esteem Over Time:


  1. moralistic

  2. responds to and appreciates humor

  3. protective

  4. turned to for advice

  5. is cheerful & happy


  1. socially at ease

  2. feels satisfied with self; unaware of self-concern

  3. regards self as physically attractive

  4. is calm, relaxed

  5. behaves in a masculine way

Now, what is so interesting about this list is that the characteristics for predicting increased self-esteem are not similar at all between male and female.  It begs the question:  Are these characteristics innately “better” because they contribute to higher self-esteem?  Or are they more valued by our society in one gender or another, so then they are valued by the individual, thus contributing to a higher self-esteem?  Just some food for thought…


Also, interesting to note are the characteristics that contributed negatively to self-esteem:


  1. critical, skeptical, not easily impressed

  2. fluctuation in mood

  3. expresses hostility

  4. is irritable

  5. is physically attractive (very interesting, right?)


  1. Fantasizes, daydreams

  2. is anxious

  3. anxiety and stress find outlet in physical symptoms

  4. self-defensive

The developmental change in self-esteem is an important topic, and one that educators should probably know more about.  I think it is of great importance particularly to note the differences in gender.  There may be a few ways we as educators can address students to avoid further negativity.  “Young women with high self-esteem emphasize interpersonal connectedness far more than young men of high self-esteem.  They tend to be warm, gregarious, talkative, giving, closely concerned individuals, whereas young men with high self-esteem are relatively unemotional, uninvolved, and independent in distancing ways,”   Block & Robins, 919).

Block, J., & Robins, R. W. (1993). A longitudinal study of consistency and change in self-esteem from early adolescence to early adulthood. Child Development, 64(3), 909–923.

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