"We live in a culture of youth where being young is prized and idealized," says Professor John Cairney, a sociologist in U of T's psychiatry department and co-author of the study, Self-esteem and the intersection of age, class and gender. "When you're talking about self-esteem, your body image is an important part of that perception."
Cairney and lead author Julie Ann McMullin of the University of Western Ontario, analysed data from the 1994 National Population Health Survey, a random telephone survey of 17,626 participants conducted by Statistics Canada. They compared each subject's self-reported level of self-esteem to their gender, social class (household income, education, marital status) and age.
The researchers also found that levels of self-esteem in low-income earners dropped significantly after they reached middle age compared to men and women with middle and high incomes. "A person's sense of self-worth is probably linked, to a certain degree, on how economically or socially successful they are. Living in this society, being economically advantaged may have a positive impact on a person's sense of who they are. It's a marker of success."
So how can we gain more confidence as we age? "It starts early on," says Cairney. "It's about changing negative perceptions and stereotypes associated with gender and age."
The study will be published in the February issue of the Journal of Aging Studies.
Professor John Cairney
U of T Department of Psychiatry; and
Health Systems Research and Consulting Unit,
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
U of T Public Affairs