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Self Esteem Linked to Good Health Declines at age 60

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Self esteem - linked to better health, less depression, and even criminal behavior - is important for success in life, but declines after we reach age 60. The findings are important for targeted interventions that can keep self esteem and good health intact throughout life.

Self esteem is lowest in young adults, increases with aging and then begins to decline at age 60. After retirement self esteem becomes even lower, thought to be the result of several factors. Co-author of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Richard Robins, PhD, of the University of California, Davis says, "In contrast (to self esteem that peaks in mid life), older adults may be experiencing a change in roles such as an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health."

A total of 3,617 US adults were surveyed four times between 1986 and 2002. Using questions like “At times I think I am no good at all" and "All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure”, the researchers were able to draw conclusions about self esteem that peaks in middle age and then begins to decline among older adults.

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The surveys also focused on life changing events such as job loss, death of a loved one or being the victim of a violent crime. Also included were questions about ethnicity, education, income, and work status, satisfaction with relationship, marital status, health, and social support.

Women were found to have lower self esteem compared to men until age 80 to 90. Despite income and health, black, compared to whites, had lower self esteem in old age, but fared the same throughout young adulthood and middle age. Happy relationships, health, better income and education all had an impact on how satisfied with themselves individuals surveyed were, that still declined with age.

Aging causes a drop in self esteem after the researchers made multiple adjustments, even for those in happy relationships. Although they enter old age with higher self-esteem and continue to have higher self-esteem as they age, they decline in self-esteem to the same extent as people in unhappy relationships," said co-author Kali H. Trzesniewski, PhD, of the University of Western Ontario. "Thus, being in a happy relationship does not protect a person against the decline in self-esteem that typically occurs in old age."

For baby boomers, self esteem may last into old age, suggest the researchers. Advances in healthcare, combined with working and earning longer might make a difference for keeping self esteem intact, in turn producing better health.

American Psychological Association