Gender and Age Variations in the Self-Image of Jamaican Adolescents

By Smith, Delores E.; Muenchen, Robert A. | Adolescence, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Gender and Age Variations in the Self-Image of Jamaican Adolescents


Smith, Delores E., Muenchen, Robert A., Adolescence


There has been a plethora of empirical investigations into the self-image of adolescents. However, most of the research has focused on adolescents in highly industrialized societies such as the United States. Very few have focused on the youth of the Caribbean area. Consequently, there is a dearth of empirical literature concerning the psychosocial adjustment of adolescents in this region (Lambert, Weisz, & Knight, 1989; Smith, 1992; Smith & Reynolds, 1992). Further, despite the research activity in industrialized societies, there are still inconsistencies and controversy about gender and age as they relate to the development of the self-image. While some investigators have reported higher self-image among males (e.g., Martinez & Dukes, 1987; Cate & Sugawara, 1986), others have found females to be more positive in their self-appraisals (e.g., Turner & Turner, 1982). Still others have reported no gender differences (Isberg et al., 1989). However, Wylie (1979) contended that measurement problems may mask underlying gender differences that would otherwise be evident. Wylie argued that the lack of gender differences on many measures are due to the practice of summing items to yield global scores. This contention is supported by Harter (1990) who found that boys rated themselves differently from girls on specific domains of the self. As a result, global measures of the self are not likely to detect crucial gender variations and are therefore limited in interpretability (Harter, 1990).

The relationship between self-image and age seems to be somewhat less controversial. Simmons, Rosenberg, and Rosenberg (1973) reported that younger adolescents manifested a more unstable overall self-image than did older adolescents, but older adolescents had lower self-ratings in specific dimensions such as intelligence and morals. Bachman and O'Malley (1977) found high school students in later adolescence to have a more positive self-image than they did in early adolescence. Blyth, Bulcroft, and Simmons (1981) reported a slight positive relationship between self-image and the onset of puberty for boys (but not for girls). More recent studies have also found older adolescents to be more self-confident than are younger adolescents (Offer, Ostrov, Howard, & Atkinson, 1988). However, the role of culture seems to add to the complexity of the relationship. For example, Martinez & Dukes (1987; 1991) found Chicano, Asian, and white males to be less satisfied with themselves in high school than they were in junior high school. In contrast, Native American, black, Chicano, and white females evaluated themselves more positively in high school than they did in junior high school.

An in-depth gender comparison of adolescents in ten cultures revealed striking gender differences in psychosocial adjustment across cultures. Adolescent males reported more positive self-image than did their female peers, and older adolescents had greater self-confidence than did younger adolescents (Offer et al., 1988). Whether the same relationships hold true for cultures in the Caribbean region is unclear. We hypothesized that due to the unique socialization practices of the Jamaican culture, Jamaican adolescents would evaluate themselves differently from youths reported in the Offer studies.

Background of the Jamaican Culture

Jamaica, the third largest of the Caribbean islands, has a population of approximately 2.5 million. The overwhelming majority (94%) are descendants of British-owned African slaves, with other groups consisting chiefly of people of East Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and European origins (Lambert, Weisz, & Knight, 1989; Phillips, 1973). The island has a unique yet very complex social structure with its many attending social problems. History, culture, economics, and other social forces interact in complex ways to produce major concerns about the personality development of the people in general and adolescents in particular (Kerr, 1952). …

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