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Age and Sex Effects in Multiple Dimensions of Self

Age and Sex Effects in Multiple Dimensions of Self

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Age and Sex Effects in Multiple Dimensions of Self-Concept: Preadolescence to Early Adulthood Herbert W.

Marsh Department of Education University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia This analysis of the 12,266 responses to the three Self Description Questionnaires, which measure multiple dimensions of self-concept in preadolescence, early-to-middle adolescence, and late adolescence and early adulthood, examined (a) age and sex effects during preadolescence to early adulthood and (b) alternative operationalizations of Shavelsnn, Hubner, and Stanton's (1976) proposal that self-concept becomes more differentiated with age. Responses to all three SDQ instruments were reliable and resulted in well-defined factor structures. Self-concept declined from early preadolescence to middle adolescence, then increased through early adulthood. Sex differences in specific areas of self-concept were generally consistent with sex stereotypes and relatively stable from preadolescence to early adulthood. There was little support for the increased differentiation of dimensions of self-concept beyond early preadolescence. The enhancement of self-concept is widely valued as a desirable outcome and frequently posited as an intervening construct that facilitates other desirable outcomes. The oft considered question of how self-concept varies with age and gender (Wylie, 1974, 1979) has diverse theoretical, practical, and methodological implications for researchers concerned with human development, gender differences, the study of self-concept, and the evaluation of programs designed to enhance self-concept. It is difficult, however, to derive a clear picture of these relations from the collage of different studies using different methodological approaches and self-concept instruments. The unique contribution of the present investigation is to provide much needed continuity by examining responses of large samples of children to similar multidimensional self-concept instruments over all grade levels and into young adulthood. The empirical findings, coupled with an extensive literature review, provide a clearer picture of how multiple dimensions of self-concept vary with sex and age than has previously been available. The general purpose of the present investigation is to study sex and age effects in 12,266 responses constituting the normative data for the three Self Description Questionnaire (SDQ) instruments designed to measure multiple dimensions of selfconcept in preadolescence (SDQI; Marsh, 1988), early-to-middle adolescence (SDQII; Marsh, in press-a), and late adolesI would like to acknowledge the support of my coauthors of studies that provided data for the normative samples of the Self Description Questionnaire (SDQ) instruments considered here, and to thank Richard Shavelson in particular for the theoretical work on which the instruments were based. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Herbert W. Marsh, Department of Education, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, 2006, Australia. Individuals wishing to use one of the SDQ instruments should write to Robert Zachary, Director of Psychological Measurement, The Psychological Corporation, 555 Academic Court, San Antonio, Texas 78204-2498, or call him at (512) 299-1061.

proposed their model. 1985.. In a test of this prediction. 1985. Soares & Soares. and physical self-concepts that were further divided into more specific components (e.g. Byrne. James. Shavelson et al. Dusek & Flaherty. Wylie. Marsh.. Marsh & Shavelson. For purposes of the present investigation. physical self-concept into physical ability and physical appearance). Marsh. proposed a general self-concept at the apex of the hierarchy that was divided into academic and nonacademic self-concepts.Harter. 1985.g. three propositions from the Shavelson et al. but early empirical studies emphasized a general self-concept rather than more specific facets of self (e. 1974. Systematic reviews of this early research have noted the poor quality of the theoretical models. 1967. there was little empirical support for the multidimensionality of self-concept. Burns. The findings were generally consistent with other research (e. (1976) also proposed that self-concept becomes more differentiated with age.. 1985). 1979). Wylie. the unmanageable array of instruments used to measure the construct. Dusek & Flaherty. Barnes. 1974. 1981. English and mathematics). In an attempt to remedy some of these problems. Shavelson et al. Wells &Marwell.cence and early adulthood (SDQIII..g. (1984). Marsh et al. Coopersmith. 1982. 1976. Marsh and Shavelson (1985) and Marsh.1985. Monge. 1982.1979). 1981..g.g. emotional. reviewed theoretical and empirical research and developed a theoretical model of self-concept. 1984. Marsh & Hocevar. Fleming* Courtney. 1890/1963). 1979. Such findings might be used to argue against Shavelson et al. nonacademic self-concept was divided into social. however. but subsequent empirical research did support it (Byrne. and Tidman (1984) found that the SDQI factor structure was consistent across responses by students in Grades 2-5. 1976. 1973) showing that if the factor structure underlying responses to a particular self-concept instrument is well defined. (b) is hierarchically organized.'s hypothesis that self-concept would become more differentiated with age. Marsh A Review of Self-Concept Research The Multidimensionality of Self-Concept The earliest theoretical accounts of self-concept emphasized its multidimensional nature (e. MARSH subject-specific facets of self (e.. Shavelson et al. In reviews of this research.SongAHattie. reasoned that for instruments . academic self-concept was further divided into 417 418 HERBERT W. Barnes. Cairns. and (c) becomes increasingly differentiated with age. Marx & Winne. and Shavelson (1988) concluded that selfconcept cannot be adequately understood if this multidimensionality is ignored.g. Shavelson et al. and methodological shortcomings in self-concept research (e. When Shavelson et al. 1978. 1984. then the structure is consistent across age groups. & Hocevar. the poor quality of these instruments. model are emphasized: Self-concept (a) is multifaceted..1984.

and becomes increasingly differentiated with age.three higher order factors (Verbal/Academic. this trend is offered as a descriptive summary based on research reviewed here. and late-adolescent responses to the SDQI. More recent research reviewed here.e. these studies support the contentions that selfconcept is multifaceted. either positive or negative. the relation of self-concept to sex and age must be considered separately for specific dimensions of self-concept in addition to—or instead of—general. They found a systematic decrease in the size of correlations among the factors—particularly for Grades 2-4—which they interpreted as support for Shavelson et al. For now. adolescent.consisting of carefully constructed sets of items specifically designed to measure particular dimensions of self-concept. Age Effects in Levels of Self-Concept Wylie (1979) summarized research conducted prior to 1977 and concluded that there was no convincing evidence for any age effect. Marsh and Hocevar found that neither a single higher order factor (General Self-Concept) nor two higher order factors (Academic and Nonacademic) were able to explain relations among the seven first-order factors. and Nonacademic) did provide an adequate fit at each of the four grade levels. unanticipated dimensions would be identified in responses by older children. 1988). and with responses to other self-concept instruments (Marsh. SDQI]. Byrne. suggests that there may be a curvilinear effect in which levels of self-concept decline during preadolescence and early adolescence.. and SDQIII (Marsh. is hierarchically ordered. in overall self-concept in the age range 6-50. but that . 1986). Math/Academic. Because of this multidimensionality. overall self-concept. however. This near-zero correlation between math and verbal self-concepts was subsequently found with preadolescent. In a reanalysis of this same data using structural equation modeling. specific facets became more distinctive). and then increase in late adolescence and early adulthood. (1984) findings. Whereas the form of the hierarchical model was similar across age. level out in middle adolescence. In summary. In examining various hierarchical models.'s prediction. the hierarchy became weaker with age (i. They therefore used the size of correlations among factors at each age level to test the hypothesis of increasing differentiation. & Shavelson. because most research is based on either overall self-concept or a limited selection of specific dimensions of self. This is difficult. The inability of the model positing just two higher order factors to fit the data was due to the surprisingly low correlations between math and verbal self-concepts. however. Marsh and Hocevar (1985) substantiated the Marsh et al. it is unlikely that new. but a theoretical rationale based on this review and empirical findings in the present study is developed as part of the discussion of the . Reports of age effects in specific dimensions of self-concept were too diverse and too infrequent to warrant any generalizations.

Whereas not all of these studies reported a decline. and the finding that the highest level of self-concept in Grade 2 was reported for AGE AND SEX EFFECTS 419 Parent Relations. but this age effect was not replicated in the subsequent research (Piers. (1984) hypothesized on the basis of previous research that SDQI responses would decline linearly with age. 1981). Marsh et al. McCarthy and Hoge (1982) . Harter(1982) found no significant age effects in self-concept in Grades 3-6 for one sample. Simmons. Soares and Soares (1977) found that selfconcept declined between Grades 1 and 3 and between Grades 4 and 8. This decline was strikingly linear and was similar for boys and girls. In summary. & Loebl.and fourth-grade students from another set of schools. there was a moderate decline in selfconcept. Rosenberg. Trowbridge (1972) reported that self-concept declined in Grades 3-6 and was stable in Grades 6-8.and fifth-grade students from one set of schools. Preadolescence. but results from a larger sample that included students in Grades 3-9 suggested a decline in self-concept with age. This decline appeared to generalize across different dimensions of self in the few studies that considered multiple dimensions. suggested that the age effects in other scales were not an artifact of an age-related response bias. Early-to-middle adolescent years. and third. and physical ability (Ruble. Initial research with the Piers-Harris instrument indicated that self-concepts in Grade 6 were lower than in Grade 3 (Piers & Harris. 1984). Dusek and Flaherty (1981) found no consistent age effects in multiple dimensions of self-concept during adolescent years for either longitudinal or cross-sectional comparisons. and Rosenberg (1973) and Rosenberg (1985) reported a decline in esteem between the ages of 8 and 13. 1980) with age. Boggiano. For most of the SDQI scales and for the total score. representing a drop of about one third of a standard deviation between Grades 2 and 5. 1965. none reported an increase during preadolescence. the studies considered here suggest a decline in self-concepts during preadolescent years. "smartness" (Stipek. Except for Parent Relations. coupled with the lack of age effect for this scale. the conservative design of the study provided a control against the age effects* being a function of nonequivalent age groups. 1984). as cited in Piers.present investigation. Eshel and Klein (1981) found a sharp decline in general self-concept in Grades 1-4. Two characteristics made these effects more robust. Feldman. all the SDQI scales were significantly related to age. Boersma and Chapman (1979) found no significant age effects in academic self-concept in Grades 2-6. 1964) and in Grade 4 (Piers. 1979). Other researchers have reported significant dectinesin self-perceptions of ability in reading (Nicholls. They designed their cross-sectional study so that any nonequivalence in age groups worked against their hypothesis by selecting second.

they found that esteem increased linearly by about 1 standard deviation between 10th grade and 5 years after high school graduation.found significant increases in self-concept in Grades 7-12 for both longitudinal and cross-sectional comparisons. and Owens (1988). Soares and Soares (1977). Smith. Connell. The nature and even the direction of the age effects. there is no consistent pattern of age effects in these studies of early. Parker. quadratic component was statistically significant for 8 of the II SDQII scales and for the two total scores.and middle-adolescent self-concepts. using responses by students in Grades 7-11 to the SDQII. 1 standard deviation per year. Whereas some studies suggest curvilinear age effects in which self-concept plateaus at its lowest point during early adolescence. reported that self-concepts for most of the SDQH scales showed a decline in Grades 7-9 and then leveled out and increased in grades 9-11. 1985) reported subsequent increases in self-concept after age 13. Piers and Harris (1964). though no grade effects were found in subsequent research (Piers. Using this large random sample. Sinclair. Simmons et al. This U-shaped. Kaczala. Soares and Soares (1977) found no age effects in their Grade 9-12 sample. Late adolescence and early adulthood. The findings based on large. Goff. and Barnes (1985). Stroobant. however. Simmons et al. Piers and Harris reported a subsequent increase in self-concept in Grade 10 compared with Grade 6 responses. O'Malley and Bachman (1983) also analyzed data from the Monitoring the Future project. there were curvilinear effects: Self-concept declined between ages 12 and 13. and Futterman (1982) reported a steady decline in math self-concept during junior high and high school years. in which large random samples of high school seniors were tested in 1976-1979 and followed up either 1 or 2 years later. and Rogers (1975) found a primarily linear increase in self-concept for boys between the ages of 12 and 18. For girls. This pattern was replicated in subsequent research reported by Marsh. and Rosenberg (1985) all found significant declines in self-concept during preadolescent years. whereas Parent Relations showed primarily a linear decrease with age. followed by little change through about 17 and then by an increase. They again found systematic increases in self-esteem of about. other studies have found systematic increases or systematic decreases in self-concept during this period. but reported that the drop for girls began sooner and was larger. Connell. For example. Meece. but also examined self-concepts for adolescents. Opposite-Sex Relations showed only a linear increase with age. (1973). O'Malley and Bachman (1983) found similar results with the 5-year National Longitudinal Study that included boys and girls. Marsh. Bachman and O'Malley (1977) examined boys' self-esteem in an 8-year longitudinal study based on the Youth and Transition data. (also see Rosenberg. Marsh. 1984). nationally representative . Parsons. differed somewhat depending on the specific scale. In summary. however.

around the ages of 12-13. that sex differences in specific components of self-concept may be lost when a total score is formed. but empirical support for this conclusion was mixed. concluded that there was no evidence for sex differences in overall self-concept at any age level. in their longitudinal study of adolescent self-concept. which was consistent with Maccoby and Jacklin's (1974) study of social self-concept Meece et al. however. nationally representative High School and Beyond data sample. Sex Effects in Self-Concept Wylie (1979). for example.. 1984) have further suggested that there are counterbalancing sex differences in many specific components— some favoring boys. In a speculation apparently consistent with these conclusions. Piers & Harris. and some favoring girls—that are consistent with traditional sex stereotypes.. Four studies (Marsh. the generalization of findings regarding overall self-concept to more specific facets is not justified. Wylie found. that girls tended to have higher self-reported affiliation than boys. There is also good evidence for decreases in self-concept during preadolescence. Despite Wylie's (1979) earlier conclusion to the contrary. MARSH .random samples provide convincing evidence that general self-concept increased steadily during this late-adolescent and early-adult period. however. consistently have lower math self-concepts than boys. These results imply a curvilinear age effect in which the decline in self-concept must reverse itself sometime during early or middle adolescence. 1988. This is not true of all self-concept dimensions but it appears to be true of most of them" (p. boys had higher self-concepts in masculinity and achievement/ leadership than girls.. 1981. Parker. Researchers (e. Harter (1982) found that preadolescent boys had 420 HERBERT W. Dusek and Flaherty (1981). subsequent research reported systematic age effects in self-concept responses. These differences in self-concept persisted despite the finding that stereotypic sex differences in mathematics and verbal achievements and in related coursework selection were minimal. 1985. using the large. Summary of age effects. She noted.. 1973). at least by middle adolescence. reported sex differences in specific self-concepts that were consistent with sex stereotypes. whereas girls have higher verbal self-concepts. The most clearly documented effects are the systematic increases in self-concept during late-adolescent and early-adult years. & Barnes. Dusek & Flaherty. but lower self-concepts in congeniality/ sociability. reported such curvilinear age effects. Rosenberg (1985) observed that "self-concept disturbances appear to be most acute during early adolescence.g. Marsh. Marsh et al. Marsh (in press-c). 1964. in her comprehensive review of research conducted prior to 1977. (1982) documented that girls. Simmons et al. Nevertheless. 241). et al. because of the emphasis on overall selfconcept and the ad hoc nature of specific dimensions that have been considered. Smith. showed that boys have higher math selfconcepts.

cognitive. boys had more positive math self-concepts and poorer reading self-concepts than girls. though the size of such differences was largest during the middle-adolescent years (see earlier discussion of age effects in this study). girls tended to have higher scores for the Verbal. In these studies. For responses by high school students to the SDQII. Boersma and Chapman (1979) found significant differences favoring girls in school satisfaction. Byrne. boys had higher math and general self-concepts.266 sets of responses that constitute the normative archive samples for the SDQI. girls had higher selfconcepts in Reading and General School.. and arithmetic. but girls had high verbal and academic self-concepts. & Barnes. For preadolescent responses to the SDQI (e. General and Emotional scales (Marsh. (1975) found significant sex differences in responses to Rosenberg's (1965) Self-Esteem Scales favoring boys for all adolescent ages. but they found few reports of sex differences in math selfconcept during primary school years. In a large random sample of adolescents. whereas boys tended to have higher scores on the Physical Ability. and. the SDQII. Appearance. Stevenson and Newman (1986) found that. there are small sex effects favoring boys for total self-concept measures and for measures of esteem derived from the Self-Esteem Scales. Marsh. .. General-School scales.g.e. Smith. reading/spelling. For preadolescents. but that sex differences were not statistically significant in Grades 1-5. Parker.higher physical self-concepts than girls but found no sex differences in social. Method An Overview The present investigation is based on the 12. 1984. counterbalancing sex differences in more specific facets of self that are generally consistent with sex stereotypes. Marsh et al. and Appearance. across responses to three different instruments.. by 10th grade.1 standard deviation) esteem that reached statistical significance because of the very large sample sizes. and Shavelson (1988) reported that. Connell et al. Marsh. perhaps. There also appear to be larger. there were no significant differences for general ability. et al. there were significant sex differences for many items and item clusters that seemed consistent with sex stereotypes. perhaps. boys consistently had slightly higher (i. 1983). 1988).. O'Malley and Bachman (1979) reviewed or reanalyzed results from several large. . confidence. and total score. Piers (1984) concluded that there is growing evidence of sex differences in specific areas of self-concept. Math. Whereas she found no significant sex differences for total selfconcept. 1985. Math. or general scales. In summary. Marsh. Relich. Meece et al. Honesty/Trustworthiness. penmanship/neatness. Same-Sex Relationships. (1979) suggested that girls have lower math selfconcepts than do boys by junior high and high school years. nationally representative studies using variations of the Rosenberg scale. and. & Smith. and lower selfconcepts in Physical Abilities. Marsh. 1987.

and the SDQIH. the relation between age and the differentiation among the scales is examined. Finally. In preliminary analyses. Sample . the factor structure and internal consistency estimates of reliability are summarized for each instrument Then. age and sex effects on responses to each instrument are examined.

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