Continuity and change in self-esteem during emerging adulthood

Joanne M. Chung, Richard W. Robins, Kali H. Trzesniewski, Erik E. Noftle, Brent W. Roberts, Keith F. Widaman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The present study examined the development of self-esteem in a sample of emerging adults (N = 295) followed longitudinally over 4 years of college. Six waves of self-esteem data were available. Participants also rated, at the end of their 4th year, the degree to which they thought their self-esteem had changed during college. Rank-order stability was high across all waves of data (Mdn disattenuated correlation =.87). On average, self-esteem levels dropped substantially during the 1st semester (d = -.68), rebounded by the end of the 1st year (d =.73), and then gradually increased over the next 3 years, producing a small (d =.16) but significant mean-level increase in self-esteem from the beginning to the end of college. Individuals who received good grades in college tended to show larger increases in self-esteem. In contrast, individuals who entered college with unrealistically high expectations about their academic achievement tended to show smaller increases in self-esteem, despite beginning college with relatively high self-esteem. With regard to perceived change, 67% reported that their self-esteem increased during college, whereas 12% reported that it declined; these perceptions tended to correspond with actual increases and decreases in their self-esteem scale scores (β =.56). Overall, the findings support the perspective that self-esteem, like other personality characteristics, can change in systematic ways while exhibiting continuity over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-483
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • College transition
  • Emerging adulthood
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-perceived change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Continuity and change in self-esteem during emerging adulthood'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Chung, J. M., Robins, R. W., Trzesniewski, K. H., Noftle, E. E., Roberts, B. W., & Widaman, K. F. (2014). Continuity and change in self-esteem during emerging adulthood. Journal of personality and social psychology, 106(3), 469-483.