People tend to gain in self-esteem as they grow older but in Western industrialized  nations the self-esteem gender gap is more pronounced - though the actual gender gap in all ways is lower in those same nations. At least on surveys.

Social psychologists analyzed survey data from over 985,000 men and women ages 16-45 from 48 countries. The data were collected from July 1999 to December 2009 as part of the Gosling-Potter Internet Personality Project. The researchers compared self-reported self-esteem, gender and age across the 48 nations in their study.

In general, the researchers found that self-esteem tended to increase with age, from adolescence to adulthood, and that men at every age tended to have higher levels of self-esteem than women worldwide. When they broke the results down by country, they found some interesting results.

"Specifically, individualistic, prosperous, egalitarian, developed nations with higher gender equality had larger gender gaps in self-esteem than collectivist, poorer, developing nations with greater gender inequality," said lead author Wiebke Bleidorn, PhD, of the University of California, Davis. "This is likely the result of specific cultural influences that guide self-esteem development in men and women," she speculated. For instance, the gender differences were small in many Asian countries, such as Thailand, Indonesia and India, but were relatively larger in countries like the United Kingdom or the Netherlands. Yet actual equality and resulting self-worth in those countries is far lower than in the West.

What surprised the researchers most was, despite the cultural differences, the general trend across all the countries suggests that gender and age differences in self-esteem are not a Western idiosyncrasy, but can be observed in different cultures across the world.

"This remarkable degree of similarity implies that gender and age differences in self-esteem are partly driven by universal mechanisms; these can either be universal biological mechanisms such as hormonal influences," Bleidorn speculates, "or universal cultural mechanisms such as universal gender roles. However, universal influences do not tell the whole story. The differences in magnitude and shape of gender and age differences in various countries provide strong evidence for culture-specific influences on the development of self-esteem in men and women."

Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.