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:


  • moralistic
  • responds to and appreciates humor
  • protective
  • turned to for advice
  • is cheerful & happy


  • socially at ease
  • feels satisfied with self; unaware of self-concern
  • regards self as physically attractive
  • is calm, relaxed
  • 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:


  • critical, skeptical, not easily impressed
  • fluctuation in mood
  • expresses hostility
  • is irritable
  • is physically attractive (very interesting, right?)


  • Fantasizes, daydreams
  • is anxious
  • anxiety and stress find outlet in physical symptoms
  • 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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