Haslam, Nick: Aussies don’t always copy the US – unlike Americans, our self-esteem has stayed the same since the 70s

Nick Haslam

Aussies don’t always copy the US – unlike Americans, our self-esteem has stayed the same since the 70s‘, The Conversation, 11 May 2017

An article about Australian psychology over the decades, reviewing 141 studies of Australian self-esteem between 1978 and 2014, involving 67 000 people. And what did this work disclose?

After controlling statistically for factors such as the gender and age composition of the samples, there was no relationship whatsoever between self-esteem scores and the year in which they were obtained. Australians in the 1970s and 1980s were no more or less fond of themselves than Australians of the same age in the 2000s and 2010s.

In the United States, on the other hand, self-esteem seems to have been rising over a similar period. The researchers think the divergence has something to do with national cultures:

Hamamura and Septarini interpret the divergent historical trajectories of American and Australian self-esteem as a consequence of cultural differences. Australian culture, they argue, embodies “horizontal individualism”, in which concerns for equality and independence coexist. The Scandinavian countries best exemplify this cultural tradition.

By contrast, the USA embodies a more “vertical” form of individualism. Cultures of this sort value the development of a unique sense of self relative to others, and are accepting of inequality.

Australian culture is no doubt susceptible to all manner of influences from across the Pacific. Rising self-esteem, and the apparent inter-generational differences in the sense of self that it brings, does not seem to be one of them. Where self-esteem is concerned, generational stereotypes appear to be even less true in Australia than elsewhere.

Chapters by Stuart Macintyre, Carmen Lawrence and Peter Stanley in The Honest History Book, however, point to divergences between Australian egalitarian values and the reality of increasing inequality here.

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