Breakaway Episode 3: Self-Esteem and Race


Self-esteem is a major concept in Social Psychology and it is majorly interesting! That’s why Ellen and Omar got together to discuss it this week. With the help of writing from academics Morris Rosenberg and Leonard Pearlin, they talk about how race affects self-esteem, and why Asian-Americans routinely report the lowest self-esteem among all races. They also ask, is sociology’s current way of measuring self-esteem the best one? Tune in to hear the convo!

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self-esteem, social psychology, race, mental health


  • A foundational reading from Rosenberg and Pearlin (1978) on self-esteem that we mentioned is, “Social Class and Self-Esteem Among Children and Adults”. It touches on how both race and class can affect self-esteem and how it does.
  • Also, Morris Rosenberg’s (who wrote a TON) book Conceiving the Self is helpful in understanding the roots of self-esteem and the self.
  • If you wanna get a primer on how certain aspects of your life (like smoking, delinquency, happiness, early sexual experiences) can affect your self-esteem Baumeister et al.’s (2003) “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” from the Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal is a good place to start.
  • Article cited when talking about which races report higher and lower self-esteem: Bachman et al. (2011) “Adolescent Self-Esteem: Differences by Race/ethnicity, Gender and Age”
    • “Large-scale representative surveys of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students in the United States show high self-esteem scores for all groups. African-American students score highest, Whites score slightly higher than Hispanics, and Asian Americans score lowest.”
    • This supports other more recent findings that “African Americans seem to consistently report higher levels of self-esteem than Whites, whereas Asian Americans report the lowest levels.” Despite African Americans experiencing more and harsher stigmas and discrimination than other races.
    • Leonard Pearlin, the pioneer of the Social Stress Process Model, argues that a disadvantaged social status (e.g., low-income or negatively valued racial group) will be associated with lower levels of self-esteem, higher levels of distress, and more likely to be exposed and vulnerable to stressful life circumstances.
    • Michael Hughes and David Demo in 1989 in their article titled, “Self-Perceptions of Black Americans: Self-Esteem and Personal Efficacy” found that “black self-esteem is insulated from systems of racial inequality, while personal efficacy is not, and suggest that this explains why black Americans have relatively high self-esteem but low personal efficacy. The belief that racial discrimination, rather than personal failure, accounts for low achievement among blacks is irrelevant to personal self-esteem and personal efficacy”
  • If you wanna find anymore sources on self-esteem, just shoot us an email or Facebook/Twitter message us and we can point you in the direction of some great stuff!

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