Migration and Self-Esteem: A Qualitative Study among Internal Migrant Girls in Turkey

By Altinyelken, Hulya Kosar | Adolescence, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview
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Migration and Self-Esteem: A Qualitative Study among Internal Migrant Girls in Turkey

Altinyelken, Hulya Kosar, Adolescence

Self-esteem is a widely used concept both in popular language and in the social sciences. Not only have an enormous number of studies been published on the theme in the fields of psychology, sociology, and education, but numerous assessment techniques and research methodologies have been developed. Self-esteem influences overall functioning and has a "cause and effect" relationship with a range of phenomena. Various researchers have studied the relationship between self-esteem and other concepts such as self-love, self-regard or self-efficacy, as well as academic achievement, cognition, anxiety, violence, depression, substance abuse, and teen pregnancy (Baumeister et al., 2003; Lent & Figueira-McDonough, 2002).

Yet, the linkages between migration experience and self-esteem is one of the less-researched areas. Further, studies tend to focus on international migrants (Wissink et al., 2008; Vazsonyi et al., 2006; Khanlou et al., 2002; Carlson et al., 2000; Diaz, 1991). However, internal migration is far more significant in terms of the numbers of people involved. Evidence also suggests that except for a few countries, internal migration is on the rise. In Turkey, internal migration is an ancient phenomenon, yet the rapid industrialization process of the 1950s has introduced a new wave of migration from the poorest agricultural Anatolian regions in the east to the richest manufacturing regions in the west. Additional factors, such as the mechanization of agriculture, rapid population growth, the relatively limited amount of cultivated land, wide sectoral and regional differences in productivity (Franz, 1994), and security concerns in the Eastern and Southeastern Anatolian regions were also influential in migration movements. As a result of this accelerated movement, the urban population, which was 28.8% in 1955, reached 65.1% in 1997 (DeSantis, 2003), and to 70.5% in 2007 (Turkish Statistical Institute).

In countries, such as Turkey, where there is ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity, internal migrants mirror many characteristics of international migrants. Yet, little research has been conducted on their well-being and social and emotional development in the post-migration phase. Migration experience destabilizes children because they must not only learn to cope with the stresses of growing up but with moving to a new physical, social, and cultural environment (Aksel et al., 2007). As a result, modifications in terms of self-esteem are likely to occur during such transition periods.

This article is based on a broader study that explored educational challenges and coping strategies of internal migrant students at the primary level in Turkey. The study showed that migrant girls encountered a variety of educational challenges in their new school environment. The six issues that emerged from the accounts of the participants included adaptation, language, low-socioeconomic background, peer relations, discrimination, and bullying. Self-esteem was also identified as an important concern, closely interlinked with many of the other identified problems. The focus of this article is on the impact of migration experience on self-esteem of primary school students, mainly girls.


Self-esteem is usually defined as a general attitude toward the worth or value of oneself, and refers to the individual's evaluation of the discrepancy between self-image and ideal self. The discrepancy is inevitable and can be regarded as normal and healthy as long as an individual does not become distressed over it (Lawrence, 2000). A large discrepancy between self-image and ideal self results in low self-esteem, whereas a small discrepancy is usually indicative of high selfesteem (Pope et al., 1988; Harter, 1999). Since self-esteem is primarily an evaluation of the self, it is a perception rather than reality. It reveals individuals' personal beliefs about themselves--for instance, whether they are intelligent and or attractive (Rosenberg et al.

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