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Self-Esteem Peaks Around Age 60

It tends to be a high point for career success and social status, researchers find    

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En español | Self-esteem, a psychological condition that can greatly affect a person’s health, appears to normally reach its peak at about age 60 and remain strong for at least a decade, a team of researchers has discovered.

The beneficial effects reach well into old age, they reported this month in the journal Psychological Bulletin, then tend to drop at around age 90, often sapped by health setbacks.

The findings, while bringing especially good news to 60-somethings, point to one clear advantage of reaching late middle age and beyond, a stage of life often accompanied by high points in income, career success and social status.

“During middle adulthood, most people further invest in their social roles, for example by taking on managerial roles at work, maintaining a satisfying relationship with their spouse or partner and helping their children to become responsible and independent adults,” the researchers wrote in a summary of their findings.

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The team analyzed a host of research studies, 175 journal articles, 15 dissertations and a book chapter, including data on nearly 165,000 people. They looked for markers of self-esteem, including health conditions such as depression, which, they said, “decreases from young adulthood to midlife, but tends to increase in old age.”

Self-esteem has a growth spurt between ages 4 and 11, they found, as children develop socially and mentally while gaining a sense of independence. Contrary to popular conception, it levels off but does not diminish in the early teenage years of 11 to 15.

“On average, self-esteem increases in early and middle childhood, remains constant (but does not decline) in adolescence, increases strongly in young adulthood, continues to increase in middle adulthood, peaks between age 60 and 70 years, and then declines in old age, with a sharper drop in very old age,” they concluded.

Around age 90, self-esteem weakens for many people, study coauthor Ulrich Orth, an associate professor of developmental psychology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, told Time magazine. “Old age frequently involves loss of social roles as a result of retirement, the empty nest and, possibly, widowhood, all of which are factors that may threaten self-esteem,” he said.

Despite these pitfalls, he said, “many people are able to maintain a relatively high level of self-esteem even during old age.”