Low Self-Esteem Prospectively Predicts Depression in Adolescence and Young Adulthood

Ulrich Orth, Richard W. Robins, Brent W. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Low self-esteem and depression are strongly correlated in cross-sectional studies, yet little is known about their prospective effects on each other. The vulnerability model hypothesizes that low self-esteem serves as a risk factor for depression, whereas the scar model hypothesizes that low self-esteem is an outcome, not a cause, of depression. To test these models, the authors used 2 large longitudinal data sets, each with 4 repeated assessments between the ages of 15 and 21 years and 18 and 21 years, respectively. Cross-lagged regression analyses indicated that low self-esteem predicted subsequent levels of depression, but depression did not predict subsequent levels of self-esteem. These findings held for both men and women and after controlling for content overlap between the self-esteem and depression scales. Thus, the results supported the vulnerability model, but not the scar model, of self-esteem and depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-708
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008


  • adolescence
  • depression
  • self-esteem
  • young adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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