Self-esteem (SE) is an important attribute at any age. That said, does it remain the same into later life? What’s more, how do researchers measure SE in older adults if it does change with age? A group of researchers addressed these questions and more in a recent issue of the journal aptly named Assessment. Specifically, they examined the differences and similarities between actual SE and one’s ideal level of stated SE.
Research on the human psyche and its aging trajectory has found that, on average, self-esteem tends to increase until around age 60, at which point it begins to show a decline. The theory behind this is that it has to do with decrements in physical health and decreasing socioeconomic status that often occur in old age. However, those who were found to be able to maintain a steady level of SE into older age appear to be less likely to experience increased cortisol secretion when experiencing stress, compared to their counterparts with declining SE. Thus, accurately measuring SE in older adults is of paramount importance for psychologists and aging researchers hoping to help find way for aging individuals to age well mentally as well as physically.
Toward this goal, the researchers measured both actual SE and participants’ ideal SE (i.e., what they wished it was), in addition to psychological measures like depression and anxiety. What they found is that neither ideal or actual SE predicts sad mood in older adults, but the interaction between the two does. Explicitly, the researchers found a significant relationship between actual SE and sad mood, but only when the ideal SE was loftier than their actual level of SE. In other words, similar to findings from younger populations, it appears that lower actual SE may only negatively impact older adults’ negative emotional states when ideal SE provides a stark contrast in terms of higher aspirations for oneself.
Continued research should follow suit with studies designed with the goal of testing both the reliability and validity of currently used psychological wellness measures, like SE, with older adult populations.