The Family Environment in Early Childhood Has a Long-Term Effect on Self-Esteem: A Longitudinal Study From Birth to Age 27 Years

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A better understanding is needed of the factors that shape the development of individual differences in self-esteem. Using a prospective longitudinal design, this research tested whether the family environment in early childhood predicts self-esteem in later developmental periods. Data came from a nationally representative U.S. sample of 8,711 participants, who reported on their self-esteem biannually from age 8 to 27 years. Moreover, during the participants’ first 6 years of life, biannual assessments of their mothers provided information on the quality of the home environment (covering quality of parenting, cognitive stimulation, and physical home environment), quality of parental relationship, presence of father, maternal depression, and poverty status of the family. The analyses were conducted using nonlinear regression analyses of age-dependent correlation coefficients, which were controlled for the effects of child gender and ethnicity. The results suggested that the family environment in early childhood significantly predicted self-esteem as the children grew up. Although the effects became smaller with age, the effects were still present during young adulthood. The largest effects emerged for quality of home environment. Moreover, the results suggested that the effects of home environment, presence of father, and poverty are enduring, as indicated by a nonzero asymptote in the time course of effects from age 8 to 27 years. Finally, quality of home environment partially accounted for the effects of the other predictors. The findings suggest that the home environment is a key factor in early childhood that influences the long-term development of self-esteem.

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