Culture: Ethnicity And Self-esteem
Most research and theory on self-concept and self-esteem is based on Western cultures and populations, whereas increasing attention to cross-cultural differences is expanding our view of self processes. Harry Triandis (1989) distinguishes between individualistic cultures, such as the United States, and collectivistic cultures, such as China and other Asian cultures. Self-esteem in the former is more likely to be based on the achievement of personal goals, whereas in the latter self-esteem is derived from the achievement of collective goals, such as those of family or society. Hazel Markus and Shinobu Kitayama (1991) propose a similar distinction between Western and Eastern cultures in their conceptualization of "independent" versus "interdependent" selves. Independent self-conceptions emphasize the uniqueness of the individual and the separation of self from others. Interdependent self-conceptions stress the connectedness of the person to the group and to fitting in with one's group. The same processes of self-concept formation may apply in both types of cultures, but with different emphases. For example, in collectivist cultures, such as those of Japan or China, the reflected appraisals from one's family, work group, or peer group are the primary sources of self-esteem and concomitant emotions such as shame and pride. By contrast, in the more individualistic Western cultures, self-attributions based on individual achievement may be a more important process for self-esteem.
These distinctions between Western and Eastern cultures are instructive for understanding self-processes, but it should also be noted that there is considerable variation within each culture regarding self-processes. For example, within the United States and other Western countries women are more likely to have an interdependent self-concept and men are more likely to emphasize an independent self-concept (Markus and Oyserman 1989). A more collectivist or interdependent self is also characteristic of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. Although the level of self-esteem does not seem to vary much by race or by ethnicity (Gecas and Burke 1995), various social factors related to race and ethnicity (such as social class and racial composition of schools and communities) do affect self-esteem. For example, African-American students who attend predominantly African-American high schools report higher self-esteem than African-American teenagers who attend predominantly white high schools (Ross 1995).
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