, 48:407 | Cite as

The Social Value of Self-Esteem

  • Markella B. Rutherford
Social Science and Public Policy


This essay reflects upon the current cultural skirmishes over the parenting practices of Americans, which have pitted “Helicopter Parents” against “Free-Range Kids”; “Tiger Mothers” against “Panda Dads;” and at-risk communities “Waiting for Superman” against privileged students in the “Race to Nowhere.” Despite the exaggerated claims of difference in these and other popular representations of the parenting wars, a common theme of building children’s self-esteem is evident as a cornerstone of contemporary American parenting practices. Through different means, the relatively privileged parents who write child-rearing memoirs (or confessionals) pursue a similar end: to build and enhance their children’s self-concept and emotional competence. In particular, professional-class parents who are anxious about their own prospects for continued success in a risky economy turn toward emotional capital as a necessary supplement to educational and extra-curricular success to ensure inter-generational transmission of advantage. The goals of emotional competence and self-esteem replicate the mechanisms of control to which elite parents are subjected in professional careers and therefore represent an important form of cultural capital in the reproduction of class advantages.


Self-esteem Helicopter parents Parenting Child-rearing New elites 

Further Reading

  1. Illouz, E. 2007. Cold intimacies: The making of emotional capitalism. Malden: Polity.Google Scholar
  2. Lareau, A. 2003. Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Nelson, M. K. 2010. Parenting out of control: Anxious parents in uncertain times. New York: NYU.Google Scholar
  4. Sennett, R. 1998. The corrosion of character: The personal consequences of work in the new capitalism. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  5. Sennett, R. 2006. The culture of the new capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyWellesley CollegeWellesleyUSA

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