Self-esteem, appearance and friendships

Adolescence is a period in life where we form our identity and explore who we are. Many may experience feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem during this time. In the Youth in Norway Study, we have examined whether adolescents actually have low self-esteem and whether it increases with increasing age.

Figure 1 shows that in the adolescence, boys tend to have higher self-esteem than girls. We then see an increase in self-esteem across age, but more so among girls. As a result, in the beginning of the 30s, the gender difference in self-esteem is substantially reduced. Thus, self-esteem tends to improve with age, especially among girls.

Self-esteem Figure 1

Appearance satisfaction

Do we observe the same positive development in how we feel about our own appearance? Figure 2 shows the level of satisfaction with our appearance. We see again that young girls have low levels, compared to boys, but that appearance satisfaction increases with increasing age. Still, men are far more satisfied with their appearance in the beginning of their 30s than women. How could this difference be explained?

One reason may be that appearance is more important for women, and that the beauty ideal portrayed in media is difficult to obtain for women.

Close friendships

Men have higher levels of self-esteem than women in most areas, with one exception: Women feel more competent when it comes to developing and keeping close friendships. Figure 3 shows that women have consistently higher levels in this area. However, we see both genders experiencing more difficulty in developing and keeping relationships with close friends towards the end of their 20s. Do we see such developments because many people are getting committed to permanent romantic relationships? Because people are starting to get children? Maybe there is less time to maintain good friendships?

To sum up, the Youth in Norway Study shows that adolescents actually experience rather low self-esteem but that it tends to increase with age.