Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Self-Esteem and Optimism in Rural Youth: Gender Differences

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Self-Esteem and Optimism in Rural Youth: Gender Differences

Article excerpt


Self-esteem is defined as a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the self (Rosenberg, 1965) and is a feeling of pride in yourself (Webster's Online Dictionary, 2008). Self-esteem is an essential component of an ego-identity which is the cornerstone of successful adolescent psychosocial development and self-care (Cantrell & Lupinacci, 2004). High self-esteem had been shown to be associated with better mental health outcomes, better coping ability, and a lower incidence of depression in both adolescents and adults (Birndorf, Ryan, Auinger, & Aten, 2005).

Optimism can be defined as an inclination to anticipate the best possible outcome (Carver, Scheier, & Segerstrom, 2010). Optimists are defined as people who tend to make the most of their life by having a positive attitude in regard to their future and accepting problems by adapting in various ways, such as active positive problem solving, redefining the situation in a positive manner, and using constructive emotional strategies like the use of humor. Dispositional optimism is a personality characteristic that is relatively stable and is defined when the person's overall expectations are of good outcomes in life (Carver et al., 2010; Scheier & Carver, 1992; Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 1994). Although optimism is felt to be relatively stable, evidence supports that an optimistic orientation can be enhanced or manipulated with appropriate intervention (Fosnaugh, Geers, & Wellman, 2009).

The purpose of this descriptive cross-sectional study was to identify relationships between selfesteem and optimism in rural youth. The research questions were: (1) Are there gender differences in self-esteem reported by rural adolescents and (2) Are there gender differences in optimism reported by rural adolescents? This study offers nurses information about rural youth's self-esteem and optimism. Gender findings are of interest due to the past history of inequalities between the genders.


Self-esteem and optimism are broadly studied concepts throughout the literature, in both national and international arenas. They have been studied from many aspects including: family communication, development, parental attachment, resilience, identity style, bullying, self-harm, and criminal behaviors. Gender differences have not been consistently addressed.


The link between self-esteem and externalizing problems, such as aggression, antisocial behavior and delinquency was explored by Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, and Caspi (2005). Rosenberg's 10-item Self-Esteem scale was used in two consecutive studies conducted by the Donnellan et al. (2005). In the combined reporting of these studies conducted with a sample of children (N = 292) from two schools in Northern California, USA and two consecutive birth cohort samples from New Zealand who were 11 years of age (N = 812) and 13 years of age (N = 736), a relationship was found between low self-esteem and externalizing problems. No gender issues were noted. One example of their findings was that '11-year-olds with low self-esteem tended to increase in aggression by age 13' (Donnellan et al., 2005, p. 333).

In a longitudinal examination of self-esteem and bullying behavior among fifth and sixth grade children (N = 307) in the northeast United States, Pollastri, Cardemil, and O'Donnell (2009), reported that boys overall had higher self-esteem than girls regardless of the level of bullying behavior. They further identified that the lowest levels of self-esteem were reported by children who were both bully/victim, followed by those who were pure victims and those that were pure bullies. The highest levels of self-esteem were noted in the children who were not involved in bullying at any level. While the overall levels of self-esteem remained comparatively low for females over the course of the study, those who were reported to be pure bullies were found to have statistically significant increases in self-esteem over time. …

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