Comparing adolescent positive affect and self-esteem as precursors to adult self-esteem and life satisfaction

Abstract

Parents often hope for their children to be happy and to have high self-esteem, but little research has compared how these two constructs are related to long-term self-esteem and life satisfaction. Although self-esteem and positive affect are related, positive affect can be experienced independent of self-worth so it may not have the same limitations associated with self-esteem. We expected that over longer periods the benefits of self-esteem may be due to the positive affect that is a constitutive part of self-esteem. Using longitudinal data (n = 112) across 13 years, we compared age 16 self-esteem and positive affect as predictors of age 29 self-esteem and life satisfaction. Results indicated that only adolescent positive affect predicted adult self-esteem and life satisfaction; adolescent self-esteem did not predict either adult outcome. These findings suggest that positive affect may build key resources that adolescents carry into adulthood. Findings also indicate additional need for longitudinal comparisons of positive affect and self-esteem.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In reality, identity is constructed as individuals are shaped by (and as they proactively shape) their own resources, emotions, environment, etc. Throughout our discussion we claim that there is no direct or prima facie implication of the self in the resources one has, although identity is certainly constructed in relation to one’s resources, emotions, environment, and so on.

  2. 2.

    Summed scores were used for adult life satisfaction and self-esteem to limit model complexity due to moderate sample size. We also examined models in which adult self-esteem and life satisfaction were modeled as latent variables and found results that were commensurate with the present analysis. However, considering our moderate sample size, we chose to limit model complexity per the recommendations of Bentler (2007) by using summed/averaged scores for the two commonly-used outcome measures.

  3. 3.

    Although self-esteem gender differences are common in adolescence (e.g., Boden et al. 2008), gender was not associated with age 16 self-esteem or age 29 self-esteem in our sample. Further, in a comparison model in which gender was a covariate, gender did not predict either adult outcome variable or meaningfully change the model. Thus, gender was not included in the model to reduce chances of overcontrolling and for model parsimony.

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Acknowledgements

The Fullerton Longitudinal Study (FLS) has been supported by grants from the Thrasher Research Fund; Spencer Foundation; California State University, Fullerton; California State University, Northridge; Kravis Leadership Institute; BLAIS Foundation; W. K. Kellogg Foundation and Army Research Institute (W911NF-17–1-0220). We thank all FLS participants for their involvement in this investigation. Special thanks to Allen Gottfried and the whole FLS team. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions contained in this article are exclusively those of the authors.

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Coffey, J.K., Warren, M.T. Comparing adolescent positive affect and self-esteem as precursors to adult self-esteem and life satisfaction. Motiv Emot 44, 707–718 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-020-09825-7

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Keywords

  • Positive affect
  • Self-esteem
  • Adolescence
  • Longitudinal
  • Life satisfaction