April 01, 2010
Self Esteem Peaks At Age 60

Self esteem rises for years until peaking around age 60. Our bodies start decaying before our self esteem does. But eventually aging makes loss of self esteem hard to avoid.

WASHINGTON Self-esteem rises steadily as people age but starts declining around the time of retirement, according to a longitudinal study of men and women ranging in age from 25 to 104.

"Self-esteem is related to better health, less criminal behavior, lower levels of depression and, overall, greater success in life," said the study's lead author, Ulrich Orth, PhD. "Therefore, it's important to learn more about how the average person's self-esteem changes over time."

Self-esteem was lowest among young adults but increased throughout adulthood, peaking at age 60, before it started to decline. These results are reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

You ascend in life until you start descending.

There are numerous theories as to why self-esteem peaks in middle age and then drops after retirement, said the researchers. "Midlife is a time of highly stable work, family and romantic relationships. People increasingly occupy positions of power and status, which might promote feelings of self-esteem," said co-author Richard Robins, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. "In contrast, older adults may be experiencing a change in roles such as an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health."

What's the solution to this problem of declining self esteem? Cure aging. If we didn't grow old we wouldn't experience declining self esteem, declining health, declining intellectual abilities, and declining physical abilities. Full body rejuvenation is the solution. No need to retire. No chronic pain from arthritis, cartilage decay, and inflamed tissues. No disabilities, no difficulty seeing. No spontaneous fractures.

We should seek to avoid our fate as decaying, unhealthy elderly.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 01 11:15 PM  Aging Studies

LAG said at April 2, 2010 7:52 AM:

"We should seek to avoid our fate as decaying, unhealthy elderly." Actually, a cure to aging is only one way to approach this, assuming that this is really causation and not correlation. You could just kill yourself at 59. And perhaps it ascends during life, where such a thing exists, because it is a product of actual accomplishment. Presumably, most people though not all accomplish more as they age.

Physician and writer, Theodore Dalrymple writes that "When people speak of their low self-esteem, they imply two things: first, that it is a physiological fact, rather like low hemoglobin, and second, that they have a right to more of it. What they seek, if you like, is a transfusion of self-esteem, given (curiously enough) by others; and once they have it, the quality of their lives will improve as the night succeeds the day. For the record, I never had a patient who complained of having too much self-esteem, and who therefore asked for a reduction. Self-esteem, it appears, is like money or health: you can't have too much of it."

Dalrymple was for years a prison doctor in the UK and intimately familiar with both the criminals he served and the NHS. He seems to suggest from his empirical experience that the inverse correlation you mention between self-esteem and criminal behavior is not supported by (years of) observation. He notes that in his experience, "The problem with low self-esteem is not self-dislike, as is often claimed, but self-absorption. However, it does not follow from this that high self-esteem is not a genuine problem. One has only to go into a prison, or at least a prison of the kind in which I used to work, to see the most revoltingly high self-esteem among a group of people (the young thugs) who had brought nothing but misery to those around them, largely because they conceived of themselves as so important that they could do no wrong. For them, their whim was law, which was precisely as it should be considering who they were in their own estimate. It need hardly be said that this degree of self-esteem is certainly not confined to young thugs. Most of us probably suffer from it episodically, as any waiter in any restaurant would be able to tell us."

The rest is here: http://incharacter.org/features/theodore-dalrymple-on-self-esteem-vs-self-respect/

PacRim Jim said at April 2, 2010 9:36 AM:

Don't worry about dying, you'll get used to it. You'll just be going home after a bizarre dream.

LAG said at April 2, 2010 10:20 AM:

PacRim Jim, no fear here. But there are many wannabe eternal youths who can't handle the thought of their own demise. Or loss of their self-generated esteem that is divorced from accomplishment--picture a punctured, flaccid balloon. Poor babies.

Thomas Dinsmore said at April 2, 2010 11:14 AM:

Isn't it possible that retirement causes loss of self-esteem? If so, the cure is to keep working. Given the state of Social Security and retirement accounts, it would appear we can all look forward to lots of self-esteem.

AdaptivityX said at April 2, 2010 4:46 PM:

PacRim Jim and LAG, don't let the door hit you on the way out. The future belongs to those who bother to show up. More for the rest of us.

Dr. Rich said at April 2, 2010 5:39 PM:

Retirement is a marketing concept designed to create a need, a need not previously appreciated, for 'product', i.e. retirement plans, retirement homes, golf course memberships. I suppose that idle senior days may be to some folk 'the good life', but not me.

Randall Parker said at April 2, 2010 6:13 PM:


I do not get your point. Criminals with high self esteem have what relevance? It is not clear to me. They might well feel efficacious about their ability to cause suffering or take from others.

Self esteem is about feeling able. One can feel able due to an accurate perception. Or one can feel able due to a delusion. If one weakens, becomes less coordinated, becomes less intellectually keen then that person becomes less able and their lowered self esteem is a natural reaction to their declining ability.

PacRim Jim,

Have you ever helped someone die from cancer? Watching someone you've loved your whole life shrivel up, experience continual pain, and become a shadow of their former self is not something I'm going to get used to. I see no more reason to get used to it than to get used to polio, cholera, or bubonic plague. We can develop the means to stop and reverse aging. We should do so.


That's the attitude! Yes, I want to show up in the future for as long as I can. I want to show up long enough to see continents move and massive geological changes play out. I want to live long enough to travel to other stars.

Thomas Dinsmore,

Yes, we will have to work for much longer than current retirees did. Western nations are running up too much debt and governments have promised far more than they can deliver. I'm thinking about working until I'm at least 75.

Practical advice: Save money for rejuvenation treatments. Governments will resist paying. You are going to need to travel and pay for treatments in countries that first allow the treatments onto the market.

LAG said at April 2, 2010 8:22 PM:

AdaptivityX: I wasn't suggesting that I was leaving; only that you and any others suffering low self esteem can solve your problem for the declining years by self-declining.

Randall Parker: Well, the study you quoted seems pretty clear: "Self-esteem is related to better health, less criminal behavior, lower levels of depression and, overall, greater success in life...." Dalrymple simply states that his many years of empirical experience refutes that notion; that criminals, presumably less successful by definition since they were being interviewed in jail and possibly not much interested in healthy living, in fact have very high self esteem. Unwarranted, it seems to me. I'm not sure what confuses you about empirical evidence that runs counter to the study you present.

It's good you want a long life. It's good to want. It's better to do, which is sort of the point I was making. No man knows the hour or the day...or so I've been told. I recommend to all my friends and acquaintances that they not put off their living or doing. Always front-load life. That will also help with any self esteem problems, since it moves up the list of accomplishments.

Nick G said at April 2, 2010 8:26 PM:

criminals, presumably less successful by definition since they were being interviewed in jail and possibly not much interested in healthy living, in fact have very high self esteem.

How did he know they had high self esteem? Because they bragged a lot, and projected confidence? That sounds like a survival skill in public relations, not self esteem.

Of course, that raises a larger question: how is self esteem measured? If it's just self-reporting, that raises a lot of methodological problems with both the prison observations and the study in the Original Post.

JD Will said at April 3, 2010 9:20 AM:

I will be turning 60 in a few months. I will let you know - if that's alright, I mean...

LAG said at April 3, 2010 12:15 PM:

Nick G, I recommend the old Techtronix Subjective Esteemeter 6000.

I think your comment cuts to the heart of this discussion. Well said.

Assistant Village Idiot said at April 3, 2010 2:06 PM:

Several folks here come up against the problem with this study. Self-esteem is an ambiguous term when translated from whatever-the-hell Orth was measuring into common understanding. A calm feeling of well-being? A sense of superiority? Acceptance of a rabbit's true dignity? We have come through an era when Improving self-esteem was regarded as an unmixed good - then we learned that it correlates poorly with good outcomes for real people. Many of us in the mental health field, not only Dalrymple, have regarded the phrase "self-esteem" with increasing suspicion over the last three decades.

Perhaps if Orth really means that some less-controversial positive regard for one's place in the world peaks at 60 then it is worth looking into.

I focus more on the concept of self-respect at this point. It is something that can always be increased by willing one's next act to be more decent, no matter how far down one has gone. A liar can finally admit to the truth and start on the right road; a slacker can increase his effort.

PacRim Jim said at April 3, 2010 11:01 PM:

Fortunately, I've not (yet) seen someone die of cancer, but I've watched hundreds of people treat their momentary existence as if it were worthless. When you consider that the universe existed for 137 million centuries before us and will endure billions of centuries after we depart, what could be more valuable than momentary sentient life? Yet we treat it as an endless commodity. Why seek eternal life--however, ineluctable one's ultimate death--when we so little value the life we've been given?

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