The Effects of Self-Esteem on Education
Heather M. Hoppe
Missouri Western State College
December 5, 1995
A lot of research has been done on the relationship between self-esteem and education level. Most
studies indicate that those people with a higher level of education also have a higher level of self-esteem
than those with little educational background. Due to my interest in this relationship, I decided to take
my already constructed self-esteem rating questionnaire and see if I could also positively correlate the
two. After obtaining data from surveys I handed out, I performed a few statistical procedures to check
for correlation. My results were very interesting.
The Effects of Self-Esteem on Education
Research done on the effects of self-esteem on education level has shown that those with a higher level
of self-concept tend to do better in school and receive more education. This further indicates that those
with more education have a higher level of self-concept. There have been many studies done on the
correlation between these two variables. Various studies have shown that people with low self-esteem
try to avoid exposing their unfavorable characteristics. In order to do this, they avoid anything that may
risk revealing their flaws. Due to this, they do not take on any challenges that may also bring rewards,
such as furthering their education (Wood et al., 1994).
Maruyama, Rubin, and Kingsbury (1981) examined the relationship between achievement, self-esteem,
and social class. Social class was found to be strongly interrelated and to "cause" both achievement and
Another study was conducted at Indiana University by Timothy Owens(1992). This study looked at the
effect of post-high school context on self-esteem. Owens took high school students in a longitudinal
study and placed these high school graduates into three categories. These three categories consisted of
students who entered the full time labor force, the active federal military, or college after high school.
Data show that of the three contexts, the military has the most significant (negative) net impact on self-
concept, followed by work (slightly negative), and college (no impact). To measure this, Owens
employed a concise definition of self-concept stating "the individual as known to the individual", in
other words- one's assessment of the worth of the self as an object.
Another way to look at this relationship between self-esteem and education was conducted in the prison
setting. Most correctional institutions employ some type of educational curriculum. This study was
conducted to see if the furthering of education increased inmates feeling of self-concept. This study was
designed using a survey (self-administered questionnaire) approach. One hundred fifty-eight valid
questionnaires were used in the final analysis of the study. Ninety eight percent of the survey
respondents felt that taking college courses helped increase their self awareness, self confidence, and
self esteem (Tootoonchi, 1993).
So what degree of self-esteem do people have that never even graduated high school? A study
conducted at the University of Maine (McCaul, Donaldson, Colodarci, & Davis, 1992) examined just
that. The high school and beyond data base was used to investigate the experiences of drop outs and
high school graduates (control group), four years after the projected date of graduation. Specifically,
dropouts and graduates with no post secondary education were compared on the following: Self-esteem,
satisfaction at work, political/social participation measures, and number of jobs. Multiple regression
analyses were used to determine the degree to which dropping out explained variance in these measures.
Dropouts differed from graduates on every personal and social adjustment measure. Differences on
these measures were much more significant in males (dropouts vs. graduates), than in females (dropouts
To take this idea one step further, Kelly and Jordan (1990) looked at the self-concept of "gifted"
adolescents (those with a very high degree of academic achievement). Self-concept is a variable that
has drawn considerable empirical study and has been identified as crucial to the realization of potential
by intellectually gifted persons. The term of self-concept is used in this study to represent an evaluation
of the self as an active agent in the world. Several studies have found gifted students to have more
positive general self-concepts than do normative samples. The Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents
was administered to each of the 90 participants. These 90 participants were divided up into three
groups: highly gifted, moderately gifted, and average students. Results showed that the level of
academic self-concept seemed to match the level of academic achievement. This study also notes that
there are many other important variables related to self-concept, such as quality of family life, work
experience, and participation in extracurricular activities. Most of these variables were not taken into
account for some of the differences in self-concept.
To put my idea in this issue simply, I plan to look at the correlation between self-esteem and education.
Many of these studies have already shown what I planned on showing with my study, and the results I
hoped to replicate: that high self-esteem positively correlates with education level. This study and the
others like it may help find a way to determine (early in life) if educational achievement is present in the
individual, and what traits are present in those that tend to achieve well educationally.
Subjects used for this study involved some of the faculty at Missouri Western State College and various
others in which I persuade to participate (fellow employees, family, friends). The total number of
surveys I received to use for data was 45. Of these 45 subjects, 21 were male, and 24 were female.
Ages of the subjects ranged from 18 to 46^. The average age of the subjects was 35. Each subject was
asked what their highest completed level of education was. Twelve of the 45 subjects had not received
any education beyond high school, 21 subjects had received some type of education up to a Bachelors
degree, and 11 subjects had obtained a Masters degree or higher.
A self-administered survey that rates the level of self-esteem of the subject was used. This survey
consisted of fifteen questions about issues relating to self-esteem, and a few demographic questions
regarding age, sex, and education level. This self-esteem rating scale was designed in my previous
The procedure involved in this study was relatively simple. Copies were made of the questionnaire with
an attached cover sheet and a full size manila envelope. The cover sheet explained who I was and what
I was doing and asked for help by filling out the attached survey. Instructions were also given on this
cover sheet. The attached manila envelope was provided to put the survey into when completed. This
kept individual responses confidential. The surveys were handed out to various offices at MWSU, and
various other places. After collecting all but five of the surveys that were handed out, I then began the
process of scoring each survey. The scoring was done using a number scale. The questions on the
survey were answered using a forced choice system. Choices offered were: Never, Sometimes, Often,
or Always. These were numbered from one to four, the totals obtained, and the results recorded.
Numbers were also assigned to the questions regarding demographics.
The first statistical procedure administered was a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). The
dependent variable was self-esteem, and the independent variable was education. The degrees of
freedom for the between group was 2, while the degrees of freedom for the within group was 42.
Results showed that there is a significant difference in self-esteem levels between subjects with little vs.
a lot of education, F(2,42)=6.25, p<.05.
When applying the Tukey-HSD test, significant differences were shown between group 1 (least
education, a mean self-esteem score of 33.667) and group 2 (some post high school education, a mean
self-esteem score of 40.50. There was also a significant difference between group 1 and group 3
(highest level of education, a mean self-esteem score of 44.0). There was not a significant difference
between group 2 and group 3.
After completing this, a 2 by 3 ANCOVA was administered to see if there was a relationship between
self-esteem and age. This test showed that the correlation between self-esteem and age was .6. This
test also showed that level of education was not significant with self-esteem:
F=2.84,p>.05. This reveals that education is not a factor in level of self-esteem,
but instead age is the determinant. Older people tend to have higher levels of self-esteem than do
younger people. In regard to this, older people usually have higher levels of education than do younger
people. This explains why it may seem that education level and self-esteem have a strong
Although I did not really find what I was hoping to find, The results were indeed interesting. It is
understandable how it could be perceived that education and self-esteem are positively correlated with
each other. Without taking other variables (such as age) into account, there is indeed a positive
correlation between the two. Yet, when age is taken into account, there is no significance between self-
esteem and education. Older people are shown as having higher self-esteem than younger people,
without even taking into account the level of education. I would like to continue this study, by obtaining
a larger sample size, to see if the results will still be presented in this manner.
Colardarci, T., McCaul, E. J., Donaldson, G. A., & Davis, W. E.(1992). Consequences of dropping out
of high school: Findings from high school and beyond. Journal of Educational Research,85,
Gaus, V., Wood, J. V., Beech, M. G., Taylor, K. L., & Michela, J. L. (1994). Strategies of social
comparison among people with low self-esteem: Self-protection and self-enhancement. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology,67, 713-731.
Jordan, L. K., & Kelly, K. R. (1990). Effects of academic achievement and gender on academic and
social self-concept: A replication study. Jouranl of Counseling and Development, 69, 173-
Kingsbury, G. G., Maruyama, G., & Rubin, R. A. (1981). Self-esteem and educational achievement:
Independent constructs with a common cause. Journal of Personality and Social
Owens, T. J. (1992). The effect of post-high school social context of self-esteem. The
Sociological Quarterly,33, 553-578.
Tootoonchi, A. (1993). College education in prisons: The inmates' perspectives. Federal
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