Cross-Cultural Study Finds Self-Esteem Gender Gap Wider in Western World

Portrait photo of UC Davis psychology faculty Wiebke Bleidorn

Wiebke Bleidorn

Spring 2016 – The results of a study of the self-esteem gender gap around the world might surprise you. Wiebke Bleidorn, assistant professor of psychology, found that the confidence gap between men and women is smallest in developing nations that rank low in gender equality.

Bleidorn and her colleagues analyzed survey data from over 985,000 men and women ages 16–45 from 48 countries—the first-ever systematic cross-cultural examination of gender and age effects on self-esteem.

In general, the researchers found that self-esteem tended to increase with age, from adolescence to adulthood, and that men at every age tended to have higher levels of self-esteem than women worldwide.

However, when they broke the results down by country, they found the self-esteem gap was more pronounced in developed, egalitarian Western nations. “This is likely the result of specific cultural influences that guide self-esteem development in men and women,” Bleidorn said.

While the study didn’t examine those influences, it found that the smallest gender differences were in Asian countries. Bleidorn noted in an interview with Time magazine that gender equality brings new expectations for women: “Women in Western cultures are more likely to compare themselves to men, whereas in Asian countries, women compare themselves to women.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

— Kathleen Holder