High self-esteem among adolescents: Longitudinal trends, sex differences, and protective factors

Susan Birndorf, Sheryl Ryan, Peggy Auinger, Marilyn Aten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Purpose: To better characterize self-esteem and to identify factors in early adolescence associated with high self-esteem in later adolescence. Methods: The National Education Longitudinal Study provided a random, nationally representative sample of 8th grade adolescents who completed surveys in grades 8, 10, and 12 (n = 16,489). We measured changes in self-esteem, and high versus low self-esteem. By using the Developmental Assets Model, predictor variables were selected to include intrinsic developmental assets (e.g., decision making) and extrinsic assets (e.g., safety). Logistic regression with separate modeling for sex identified assets that were predictive of high self-esteem, controlling for sociodemographic factors. Results: Boys versus girls were more likely to report high self-esteem in all grades (all p < .001). For girls, factors predictive of high self-esteem in grade 12 were as follows: African-American (odds ratio [OR] = 2.06) or Hispanic (OR = 1.52) race/ethnicity, positive family communication (OR = 3.03), safety (OR = 1.50), and high self-esteem (OR = 3.03). For boys, factors were family income being above the federal poverty level (OR = 1.50), positive family communication (OR = 2.40), safety (OR = 1.41), religious community (OR = 1.21), and high self-esteem (OR = 3.01) (all p < .05). Conclusions: Fewer adolescent girls than boys report high self-esteem. Adults may foster self-esteem in adolescents by providing positive communication through supportive and caring relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-201
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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