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Monday, May 29, 2006

The relation between chosen role models and the self-esteem of men and women

Self-esteem has been found to correlate negatively with poor outcomes that range from eating disorders, to anxiety and depression, to gang membership (Harter, 1999; Mruk, 1999; Orvaschel, Beeferman, & Kabacoff, 1997; Shisslak, Crago, Renger, & Clark-Wagner, 1998; Wang, 1994). One factor found to be associated with individuals' levels of self-esteem is the absence or presence of role models (Mack, Schultz, & Araki, 2002; Ochman, 1996; Pettus, 2001). In the present study we focused on the relation between the sex of an individual's chosen role models, the self-perceived difference of the role model to the self on character traits, and the individual's self-esteem.

Self-esteem can be defined simply as the way individuals feel about themselves (Steinberg, 1999). Self-esteem is also viewed as the difference between the real self and the ideal self (Pettus, 2001). If people are similar to the ideal they want to reach, they are more likely to have higher self-esteem than if they consider themselves to be far from their goal (Pettus, 2001). It has been noted that perceived inconsistencies between one's actual and ideal self-concepts are important because failure to attain an ideal may lead to serious negative outcomes (Harter, 1999). Cooper-smith (1987) suggested that the broader construct of self-esteem can be further divided into four subtypes: school/academic, home/parent, peer/social, and general self-esteem. The need to study multiple domains of self-esteem, particularly for women, has been documented by other researchers (e.g., Knox, Funk, Elliott, & Bush, 1998).

Given that self-esteem may be considered as the difference between the real self and the ideal self, it is important to identify role models and their demographic and character traits. One characteristic of role models that may impact an individual's self-esteem is the sex of the chosen role model. Some research suggests that same-sex role models may have a more positive impact on self-esteem than other-sex role models (Ochman, 1996; Trankina, 1992). Using storybook characters to represent role models, Ochman (1996) found that third graders with same-sex role models had higher self-esteem than those with other-sex role models. Replication of these findings using actual, rather than assigned, role models would further clarify the impact that sex of chosen role models has on self-esteem. Similar findings show that the presence of same-sex role models is associated with higher self-esteem among college-aged women and predicts women's career salience and nontraditional career choices (Hackett, Esposito, & O'Halloran, 1989). Successful female role models may give younger women the self-efficacy to fulfill their own career goals.

In two studies of sex of participant and sex of role model, women were found to be more influenced by their mothers and their female friends than were men (Basow & Howe, 1980). In contrast, both men and women were influenced equally by male role models. Thus, men were more likely than women to choose same-sex role models and, although women were more likely to choose female role models than men were, they were not less likely to choose male role models. Although these findings shed light on the choice of role models by women and men, the researchers did not examine how these choices relate to self-esteem.
Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, April, 2004 by Kathryn E. Wohlford, John E. Lochman, Tammy D. Barry


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