Young girls' self esteem worse than boys

Young girls tend to suffer from lower self-esteem and poorer mental well-being than young boys. Research from the School of Education and Communication (HLK) at Jönköping University (JU) shows that society and the outside world's expectations of the two sexes look different and can affect mental health already in the early years of life.

A girl talking to a woman about mental health.

The study was carried out using data from the Longitudinal Research on Development In Adolescence (LoRDIA) using responses from around 650 young people, showing that girls have a clearly lower self-esteem than boys of the same age. Questionnaire responses from two occasions were used, one from when the young people were 12-13 years old and another from when they were 17 years old.

Already at the age of 12–13, girls estimated their self-esteem as lower than boys, while boys estimated their mental well-being a little lower than girls.

Family finances come into play

It was twice as common for a 17 year old girl to have low self-esteem compared to a 17-year-old boy. The factors that come into play when it comes to lower self-esteem in young people, apart from gender and previously reported self-esteem, were also the family's financial situation and previously reported well-being.

Lilly Augustine is Associate Professor and one of the researchers behind the study.

"Girls are more often expected to be passive, to reflect, relate and empathize, while boys are encouraged to take command, compete and seek challenges. This means that girls tend to feel more and incorporate experiences into their emotional life, i.e. to internalize reactions and experiences," says Lilly Augustine.

"Boys, on the other hand, learn to put their emotions on something external. Simplistically, you could say that girls tend to react inwardly, while boys tend to react outwardly," she continues.

When looking only at mental well-being in both boys and girls aged 17, the study found that previously reported self-esteem and well-being played a role. The researchers were also able to point out that there was a relationship between girls and their mothers' level of education in the questionnaire responses, which played an important role both in their well-being and self-esteem. No such relationship existed for the 17-year-old boys.

"An assessment in coping with things"

Lilly Augustine believes that it is good to have a "normal" self-esteem, to have a higher self-esteem is only beneficial if it is connected to how others see you and how you yourself perform.

"Feeling that you are valuable, that you have enough competence to cope with your everyday life is connected to how you feel. Self-esteem is an assessment in coping with things and thus feeling less stress in life," Lilly concludes.

The study was carried out in collaboration between Kristina Carlén, University of Skövde, Lilly Augustine, Jönköping University and Sakari Souminen, University of Turku, Finland.