Which gender has higher self-esteem?

Self-esteem refers to a person’s overall evaluation of their own worth and value. It encompasses beliefs about oneself as well as emotional states, such as pride, shame, triumph, and despair. Self-esteem is an important aspect of psychological health. People with high self-esteem are more likely to experience life satisfaction and well-being, whereas those with low self-esteem are more vulnerable to mental health problems like depression.

There are robust gender differences in self-esteem that emerge in adolescence and remain relatively stable into adulthood. Understanding these gender gaps in self-esteem can provide insight into larger social processes related to gender socialization and stratification. This article will review research on gender differences in self-esteem levels and attempt to explain the underlying reasons for this disparity. It will also discuss implications of the self-esteem gender gap.

Do men have higher self-esteem than women?

Research consistently shows that adult males have higher self-esteem, on average, compared to females starting in adolescence. Data from a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents found that males scored higher on measures of both global self-worth and more domain-specific evaluations like academic competence and physical appearance. While gaps narrowed throughout the 1990s, a measurable difference remains. By mid-adolescence, males rate themselves more positively than females on traits like leadership ability, athletic competence, physical appearance, and global self-worth.

Furthermore, several meta-analyses—which pool data across studies—confirm the existence of a small but statistically significant gender gap in self-esteem favoring men. One review of 216 studies published between 1968 and 1997 found that males scored about one quarter of a standard deviation higher on assessments of self-esteem. Similarly, an analysis of 485 studies involving over 500,000 participants found that males scored .21 standard deviations higher than females.

While sometimes modest in size, this gender gap in self-esteem is highly consistent across cultures and different age groups. It emerges early in life and persists through older adulthood, underscoring its robustness.

When does the gender gap in self-esteem emerge?

Researchers find minimal gender differences in self-esteem during childhood. However, a disparity emerges around puberty and continues to widen throughout adolescence.

By age 12, boys score higher on measures of global self-worth. Between ages 13 and 16, male self-esteem continues rising while female self-esteem declines overall. One study of mostly white, middle-class American 6th to 12th graders found that as children mature, ratings of self-competence remain unchanged for boys but drop substantially for girls. The self-esteem gender gap is widest during the high school years.

This trend plays out across ethnic and cultural groups but is particularly pronounced for white adolescents. In contrast, Black girls maintain higher self-esteem throughout development. Still, almost all demographic groups a report self-esteem advantage for adolescent boys.

Why do boys end up with higher self-esteem?

There are several complementary explanations for why adolescent boys typically gain an edge in self-esteem over girls:

Changing social norms. As children approach puberty, certain behaviors considered cute or harmless in childhood may face harsher social sanctions. For instance, assertiveness often declines as girls confront backlash for failing to conform to traditional passive feminine norms. Losing confidence in traits that were once praised can lower self-worth. However, boys face fewer restrictions on boldness as they age.

Body image. Puberty ushers in weight gain and body fat accumulation as girls’ bodies transform. These normal changes frequently get interpreted negatively through the lens of unrealistic beauty ideals that value extreme thinness. Boys face less societal pressure to achieve a particular physique. Consequently, adolescent girls grow increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies, while boys remain stable. Poor body image drags down self-esteem.

Academic biases. School settings often reinforce masculine domains like science and math over feminine skills like essay writing. Since academic competence constitutes a major component of self-esteem, this bias can hinder girls. Furthermore, some teachers underestimate girls’ intellectual abilities which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Emerging gender roles. Adolescence marks a developmental period rife with gender role intensification. Youth face mounting pressure to conform to traditional scripts dictating acceptable masculine and feminine conduct. Violating gender norms invites social sanctions. Since masculine roles garner greater prestige, boys may gain confidence by embracing traits like independence and dominance. However, emphasis on female attributes like caretaking rarely boosts self-esteem.

Do gender differences in self-esteem persist into adulthood?

Research confirms that the male advantage in self-esteem first emerging in adolescence continues throughout the lifespan into older adulthood. However, the size of the gender gap varies across different studies. While some report robust differences comparable to those found in adolescence, others indicate a negligible disparity after the teen years.

For instance, one study of over 26,000 German participants aged 18 to 96 found that men consistently scored higher on measures of self-esteem. However, effect sizes were small, with men scoring less than one fifth of a standard deviation above women. Similarly modest gaps appear in large U.S. samples spanning young adulthood to old age.

In contrast, analyses of longitudinal data following individuals over decades reveals larger divides. The Cohort study in the United States tracked over 1500 participants from age 25 to 64. At each wave, men scored approximately one third of a standard deviation higher than women in self-esteem. Data from Germany’s Socio-economic Panel study also indicates that the self-esteem gender gap remains moderately wide from young adulthood through the senior years.

Thus, while adult males tend to maintain higher self-esteem than females, the magnitude of this difference varies across contexts. Social role changes like entering the workforce and starting families may attenuate the disparity by providing sources of affirmation for both genders. Nonetheless, a gap in favor of men persists through old age.

How do social roles impact gender differences in adult self-esteem?

Two key social determinants of adult self-esteem are romantic relationships and work status. Gender differences in these roles may partially explain divergent levels of self-worth.

Marriage. Marital status impacts men and women differently. Multiple studies find that married men enjoy higher self-esteem than single men. Gaining a spouse provides affirmation of worth and social status. However, marriage shows little to no impact on women’s self-esteem, perhaps reflecting less prestige granted to feminine roles. Single women sometimes even report higher self-esteem than wives, although findings are mixed.

Employment. Similarly, unemployment takes a greater toll on men’s self-esteem. Losing a job contradicts masculine norms of success and providing. Women often remain employed in female-dominated service roles, buffering self-esteem. However, labor force participation does bolster women’s self-evaluations above homemakers. Likewise, prestigious professional careers boost self-esteem more so than conventional female jobs.

Thus, fulfilling stereotypically masculine roles like breadwinner appear to enhance self-esteem substantially. Success in traditional feminine spheres provides less of a boost. These forces likely maintain gender disparities in self-worth throughout adulthood.

How do cultures and ethnicities moderate gender differences in self-esteem?

While males enjoy higher self-esteem across cultures, the size of this advantage varies. In general, countries with greater gender egalitarianism demonstrate smaller gaps. Conversely, cultures with more rigid gender role divisions tend to report larger discrepancies favoring men.

For example, countries in Southern and Eastern Europe such as Italy, Portugal, Poland, and Romania show robust male advantages in self-esteem. Gender role attitudes in these regions remain traditional. However, more progressive Nordic nations like Sweden and Norway feature negligible gaps—though men still edge out women. Even within cultures, more patriarchal ethnic groups like Arab Americans display larger divides than, for instance, Asian Americans.

Furthermore, the self-esteem boost males experience in adolescence is less pronounced among African Americans compared to white youth. Black girls report maintaining high self-esteem as they mature. Researchers suspect that strong female role models and traditions of gender role flexibility in Black communities help insulate young black women from drops in self-worth.

Thus, male relative advantage in self-esteem is generally attenuated in social contexts that promote gender equality. Role flexibility and female empowerment helps uphold women’s self-views.

What are the consequences of gender gaps in self-esteem?

Gender divides in self-esteem contribute to broader disparities in mental health and well-being that disadvantage women. Low self-esteem constitutes a risk factor for:

– Depression
– Eating disorders
– Anxiety
– Loneliness
– Suicidality

Given that women already face heightened vulnerability for most psychological disorders, the added self-esteem deficit renders them susceptible to even worse mental health outcomes. These risks emerge early in adolescence when female self-esteem first begins declining and remain problematic throughout adulthood.

In addition to mental health, low self-esteem also undermines subjective well-being and life satisfaction. People with poorer self-image report less happiness. They experience less autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships, purpose in life, and other components of eudemonic well-being. By late adolescence, girls score lower in multiple aspects of subjective well-being compared to boys. This disadvantage echoes throughout adulthood.

Beyond health, low self-worth also inhibits professional success. Individuals with higher self-esteem display greater motivation and persistence. They embrace more ambitious, autonomous goals. Low self-esteem hampers motivation and fosters passivity, undermining achievement. Thus, gender gaps in self-esteem likely reinforce career disparities favoring men.


In summary, research conclusively demonstrates that males enjoy a modest but persistent advantage in self-esteem across cultures starting in early adolescence and continuing into old age. Sociocultural forces like gender role norms, body image standards, and social status afforded by traditional roles contribute to this discrepancy. Women’s lower self-esteem relative to men puts them at heightened risk for mental health problems and reduced well-being. It also hinders empowerment and achievement. However, cultures with flexible gender norms and strong female status attenuation this gap. Promoting diversity and egalitarianism from early childhood may continue reducing gender divides in self-worth.

Leave a Comment