Review of Self-Esteem Research
Robert W. Reasoner
Self-Esteem Resources

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THE PROBLEM: The condition of our youth has significantly deteriorated.

  • One-fifth of all 8th graders in the U.S. are considered to be at high risk of school failure.
  • Approximately 30% of our youth drop out and fail to complete high school.
  • Homicide is now the nation's third leading cause of death for elementary and middle school children. There were 2,555 juvenile homicides in 1990.
  • It is estimated that 135,000 guns are brought into schools every day. Violence in schools is now the primary concern of educators nationwide, and 82% report a significant increase in violence over the past five years.
  • The incidence of births to unmarried teens nearly doubled between 1965 and 1985. Over a million adolescents get pregnant each year.
  • The federal government spent more than $21.5 billion last year on welfare for families started by teenagers. This is $1.7 billion higher than in 1988.
  • The teen suicide rate has doubled since 1968. Ten (10) percent of adolescent boys and 18 percent of girls have attempted suicide and approximately 30% contemplated it. In 1985, some 5,399 young people between ages 5 and 24 took their own lives in suicide.
  • In the last 20 years, the incidence of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that stems from psychological distress, has doubled.
  • Evidence supports the fact that most schools are not conducive to self-esteem since the level of self-esteem declines for most students the longer they are in school.

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Relationship of self-esteem to school achievement:

  • BROOKOVER, THOMAS, AND PATTERSON, 1985--Found there was a significant relationship between self-concept and academic achievement.
  • COOPERSMITH, 1965--Reported that children's self-concept predicted a child's ability to read in first grade at least as well as measures of intelligence.
  • WYLIE, 1979--There is considerable empirical evidence that self-concept predicts and influences achievement in school, from the primary grades through undergraduate education.
  • HOLLY, 1987--Compiled a summary of all the studies and indicated that most supported the idea that self-esteem was more likely the result than the cause of academic achievement. However, he acknowledged that a certain level of self-esteem is required in order for a student to achieve academic success and that self-esteem and achievement go hand in hand. They feed each other.
  • COVINGTON, 1989--As the level of self-esteem increases, so do achievement scores; and as self-esteem decreases, so does achievement. Furthermore, and perhaps most important, he concluded that self-esteem can be modified through direct instruction and that such instruction can lead to achievement gains.
  • WALZ & BLEUER, 1992--Factors which are important to school success, such as positive feelings about self, absenteeism, and school retention, are affected by successful school self-esteem programs.
  • SCHEIRER & KRANT, 1979--Reported on several studies that have demonstrated that educational achievements are influenced by self-concept.

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Relationship between crime and violence and self-esteem:

  • KELLEY,1978 --Found a correlation between delinquency and low self-esteem. He found that as programs were implemented to raise the level of self-esteem, the incidence of delinquent behavior in schools declined.
  • KAPLAN, 1975--Found evidence that for individuals with low self-esteem who have experienced consistent failure, delinquent behavior serves to enhance self-esteem as a way of getting back at the system. He also found in a long term study of 3,000 7th grade students that lower levels of self-esteem were most likely to adopt deviant behavior patterns. Low self- esteem becomes a tremendous source of anger and hostility which frequently results in violence.
  • TOCH, 1969 and DAVIS, 1993--Concluded there were 10 factors that promoted violence, the most common was "self-image compensating" that involved aggression in defense of the self-image. They found that many commit violence to compensate for their feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem.
  • JOHNSON, 1977--Documented that juvenile delinquents not only had low self-esteem, they also had significantly lower reading skills and achievement. Juvenile delinquency prevention programs often fail because they overlook the crucial element of self-esteem and its impact on reducing delinquent behavior.
  • SAHAGAN, 1991--Today kids join gangs because of the need to belong. To reduce gang membership we must focus on enhancing the self-worth and self-esteem of our youth so that they do not seek out and need the gang to meet their basic human needs.
  • LOPEZ, 1992--The reasons for forming gangs involve the need for recognition and identity, tradition, a sense of belonging, and peer pressure. These factors all relate to self-esteem.
  • INTERNATIONAL ASSOC. OF CHIEFS OF POLICE, 1979--Concluded that a significant loss of self-esteem is an immediate cause of deviant behavior.
  • STEFFENHAGEN & BURNS, 1987--Concluded from their studies that low self-esteem is the underlying psychodynamic mechanism underlying all deviant behavior.

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Relationship of self-esteem to teenage pregnancy:

  • CROCKENBERG and SOBY, 1989--In a review of research studies they found that in 4 of 5 studies low self-esteem is associated with less frequent or less sustained use of contraceptives.
  • HOGG, 1979--Found that the primary reason juvenile girls run away from home and go into prostitution is because of negative identity development as a result of negative experiences. It was found that the most effective way to get them to give up prostitution was to help them regain their self-esteem.
  • BEANE, 1984--Determined that 85-90% of the teenage mothers elect to keep their babies rather than give them up for adoption in the belief that a baby will provide the kind of unconditional love and acceptance that they perceive society does not.

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Relationship between drug and alcohol abuse and self-esteem:

  • KEEGAN, 1987--Low self-esteem either causes or contributes to neurosis, anxiety, defensiveness, and ultimately alcohol and drug abuse.
  • SKAGER, 1988--Self-esteem is indeed involved in addictive substance use. The use of drugs is often used to compensate for low self-esteem and feelings of a lack of control over one's life. Those with a strong sense of self do not have to be sustained at the expense of others. They do not need to control or humiliate other people or resort to substance abuse to compensate for low
  • GOSSOP, 1976--Results of his study show considerable deficiencies in self-esteem among drug-dependent patients, and believes that teenagers with low self-esteem who are exposed to drugs must be considered to be at-risk.
  • MILLER, 1988--Demonstrated that a program to increase self-esteem significantly changed the attitudes of students regarding their alcohol and drug use.

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Relationship between school dropouts and self-esteem:

  • KITE, 1989--Found that of seven major factors contributing to school dropouts, four of the factors were related to self-esteem, feeling that they lack the intelligence or the ability to succeed in school. In other words, they suffered from low self-esteem, reinforced consciously or unconsciously by parents or teachers.
  • BLOOM, 1977--School dropouts tend to have more negative self-esteem as learners than those who stay in school.
  • EARLE, 1987--Found that two common characteristics among girls who drop out of school include low academic achievement and low self-esteem.

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Relationship of self-esteem to suicide:

  • BATTLE, 1990--His research studies confirm the relationship between depression in adolescents and low self-esteem.
  • BHATTI, 1992--Refers to clinical studies documenting the relationship between low self- esteem in adolescents and thoughts about suicide, depression, and drugs.

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Other relationships with self-esteem:

  • WHITELY, 1980--Found a high correlation between moral decision making and the level of self-esteem. After implementing a course to raise the level of self-esteem of college students they found there was less cheating and stealing and more concern about the common good of other students.
  • PICCININI, 1987--Reported that a sample of bulimic subjects were found to exhibit significantly lower levels of self-esteem as compared to those not exhibiting bulimic behavior.
  • SAGAN, 1990--Psychological factors, including self-esteem, have a greater impact on health than drugs, new medical procedures, and high-tech equipment of modern medicine. The healthiest person today is one with self-esteem and a sense of personal control. Those who feel good about themselves are less susceptible to not only psychosomatic illnesses but also more resistant to disabilities like cancer.

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  • Definitive research on self-esteem has been difficult due to the variety of definitions and the many self-esteem measures being used, and the multiple factors which influence it. Nevertheless, the preponderance of evidence underscores the significance of self-esteem and its relationship to so many of the problems facing youth today. It is also evident that programs to foster self-esteem can serve as a "social vaccine" in reducing the incidence of many such problems.

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Battle, J.(1990) Self-Esteem: The New Revolution. James Battle & Associates, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Beane, J. and Lipka, R. (1984)Self-Concept, Self-Esteem, and the Curriculum. New York: Teachers College Press.

Bhatti et al. (1989) "Association Between Child Maltreatment and Self-Esteem." The Social Importance of Self-Esteem. U.C. Press, Berkeley, CA.

Bloom, B.S.(1978) "Affective Outcomes of School Learning." Phi Delta Kappan ; 193-199.

Brookover, W. B. (1965)Self-Concept of Ability and School Achievement.. East Lansing, Michigan: Office of Research and Public Information, Michigan State University.

Coopersmith, S. (1967)The Antecedents of Self-Esteem. San Francisco, CA. W.H. Freeman.

Covington, M.(1989) "Self-Esteem and Failure in School." The Social Importance of Self- Esteem. U.C. Press, Berkeley, CA.

Crockenberg, S, & Soby, B. (1989) "Self-Esteem and Teenage Pregnancy." The Social Importance of Self-Esteem. U.C. Press, Berkeley, CA.

Davis, Eddie. (1991)" Youth Violence: An Action Research Project." Journal of Multicultural S Social Work v1 n3 p. 33-44.

Earle, J. (1987) Female Dropouts: A New Perspective. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Boards of Education.

Gossop, M. (1976) "Drug Dependence and Self-Esteem." International Journal of Addictions. Vol. 11.

Hogg, J.A. (1979) Female Adolescent Prostitution. Master's Thesis. University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.

Holly, W. (1987) Self-Esteem: Does It Contribute to Students' Academic Success? Eugene, OR: Oregon School Study Council, Univ. of Oregon.

International Assoc. of Chiefs of Police. (1979) Indecent Exposure - Training Key No. 275. Gaithersburg, MO.

Johnson, P.S. (1977) School Failure, School Attitudes, and the Self-Concept in Delinquents. Doctoral Dissertation. Walden University, Arlington, VA.

Kaplan, H.B. (1975) Self-Attitudes and Deviant Behavior. Goodyear, Pacific Palisades, CA.

Keegan, A. (1987) "Positive Self-Image--A Cornerstone of Success." Guidepost. February, 19.

Kelley, T.M.(1978) "Changes in Self-Esteem Among Pre-Delinquent Youths in Voluntary Counseling Relationships." Juvenile and Family Court Journal v29, May.

Kite, H. (1989) How To Prevent Dropouts. Orlando, Florida.

Lopez, L. "Keeping Kids Out of Gangs." Thrust for Educational Leadership, Jan. 1992.

Miller, R.L. (1988)"Positive self-esteem and alcohol/drug related attitudes among school children." Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. 33: 26-31.

Piccinini, H. & Mitic, W.M. (1987)"Self-esteem levels of female university students who exhibit bulimic behavior." Canada's Mental Health. 35: 15-19.

Reasoner, R. (1992) "What's Behind Self-Esteem Programs: Truth or Trickery?" The School Executive. April.

Sahagun, L. (1990) "Drugs Not Main Cause for Gangs, Sheriff Says." Los Angeles Times. September 20.

Scheirer, M. & Kant, R.(1979) "Increasing educational achievement via self-concept change." Review of Educational Research. 49, 131-150.

Skager, Rodney. (1987) Prevention of Drug & Alcohol Abuse. California Attorney General's Office, Sacramento, California.

Steffenhagen, R.A. & Burns, J. (1987) The Social Dynamics of Self-Esteem. Praeger, New York, N.Y.

Toch, H. (1969). Violent Men. Chicago, Aldine.

Walz, G. & Bleuer, J. (1992) Student Self-Esteem: A Vital Element of School Success. ERIC Counseling and Personnel Services, Inc., Greensboro, N.C.

Whitely, J. (1980)Moral Character Development of College Students. U.C. Irvine, Irvine, CA.

Wylie, R.C. (1974) The Self-Concept. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

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