The current study investigated how ethnicity and gender affect changes in the self-esteem of early adolescents during the middle school years. Self-report data were collected from more than 4,000 early adolescents from three ethnic groups: European American, African American, and Hispanic and analyzed using a consecutive three-year cross-sectional design to investigate group trajectories. Distinct group trajectories of self-esteem from sixth to eighth grade were found for each ethnic group. African American adolescents had high and stable self-esteem across these years while Hispanic adolescents had low and stable self-esteem. In contrast, self-esteem among European Americans began moderately high in sixth grade but dropped precipitously by eighth grade. Girls had lower self-esteem than boys in the Hispanic and European American groups, but not in the African American group. We conclude that past studies that found a sharp decline in self-esteem during the middle school years may have been conducted in a largely white sample and thus obscure important individual ethnic factors.
Published in Research in Middle Level Education Online, 2006