Self-esteem rises steadily as people age but starts declining around the time of retirement, according to a longitudinal study of men and women ranging in age from 25 to 104.
"Self-esteem is related to better health, less criminal behavior, lower levels of depression and, overall, greater success in life," said the study's lead author, Ulrich Orth, PhD. "Therefore, it's important to learn more about how the average person's self-esteem changes over time."
Self-esteem was lowest among young adults but increased throughout adulthood, peaking at age 60, before it started to decline. These results are reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.
Four times between 1986 and 2002, researchers surveyed a total of 3,617 adults living in the United States. On average, women had lower self-esteem than did men throughout most of adulthood, but self-esteem levels converged as men and women reached their 80s and 90s. Education, income, health and employment status all had some effect on the self-esteem trajectories, especially as people aged. "Specifically, we found that people who have higher incomes and better health in later life tend to maintain their self-esteem as they age," said Orth
People of all ages in satisfying and supportive relationships tend to have higher self-esteem, according to the findings. However, despite maintaining higher self-esteem throughout their lives, people in happy relationships experienced the same drop in self-esteem during old age as people in unhappy relationships.
There are numerous theories as to why self-esteem peaks in middle age and then drops after retirement, said the researchers. "Midlife is a time of highly stable work, family and romantic relationships. People increasingly occupy positions of power and status, which might promote feelings of self-esteem," said co-author Richard Robins, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. "In contrast, older adults may be experiencing a change in roles such as an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health."
The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.