Skip to content

September 25, 2013

Cultural Self-Esteem

by Angel Pumila


Cultural Self-Esteem

Angel M. Pumila

Self-esteem describes how a person views oneself either positively or negatively.  People with higher levels of self-esteem tend to think good things about themselves.  They are confident in their abilities and enter situations with a positive attitude.  On the other hand, people with lower levels of self-esteem have a negative viewpoint about themselves and their abilities.  They may enter into the same situations as people with high self-esteem, but people with low self-esteem expect a negative outcome based upon their concepts of self.

Self-esteem not only varies from person to person, but also from culture to culture.   Evidence from the 1970’s shows that 90% of Americans claim to have high self-esteem.  (Twenge, 2006; Twenge & Campbell, 2001).  Among American men and women, women were found to be “slightly lower than men” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).  Adolescent girls had the highest difference in self-esteem in the group studied.  There’s was significantly lower due to a critical body image during that phase of life.

In Hong Kong, the view of self lies not on the concepts of beauty, status or achievements, but on dignity.  They tend to ”preserve the sovereign self by not letting others define them” (Kim, Cohen, & Au, 2010).  Studies show that people in Hong Kong are indifferent to the viewpoints of others.  The way that people think of them, whether positive or negative, does not bother them.  Instead, their self-esteem is measured on the dignity held by themselves and their family.

Not all cultures have a need for high levels of self esteem.  According to a study done at the University of Pennsylvania, “the need for positive self-regard is not a universal, but rather is rooted in significant aspects of North American culture” (Heine, Lehman, & Markus, 1999).  In this study, it was found that Japanese people put less emphasis on self-esteem and more on being self critical.  Like those in Hong Kong, they do not view themselves in the same manner as Americans but instead, place more significance on finding ways to improve themselves.

By studying different cultures, it is found that different people have varying ways that they view themselves.  This is taught from within the culture itself, either directly or indirectly, and passed from generation to generation.  It is an essential element that should be studied and observed in order to fully understand the actions and mindsets of people with different cultural backgrounds.



Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social psychology & human nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN: 9780534638320.

Heine, Steven J.; Lehman, Darrin R.; Markus, Hazel Rose; Kitayama, Shinobu; Psychological Review, Vol 106(4), Oct, 1999. pp. 766-794.

Kim, Young-Hoon; Cohen, Dov; Au, Wing-Tung; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98(6), Jun, 2010. pp. 904-916.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: