Self-esteem, the affective or evaluative appraisal of one's self, is linked with adaptive personality functioning: high self-esteem is associated with psychological health benefits (e.g. subjective well-being, absence of depression and anxiety), effective coping with illness, and satisfactory social relationships. Although several pathways have been hypothesized to effect within-family transmission of self-esteem (e.g. parenting style, family relationship patterns), we focus in this article on genetic influences. Genetic studies on both global and domain-specific self-esteem and on both level and stability of self-esteem converge in showing that (i) genetic influences on self-esteem are substantial, (ii) shared environmental influences are minimal, and (iii) non-shared environmental influences explain the largest amount of variance in self-esteem. We advocate that understanding of current issues in self-esteem research will be enriched by including behavioural genetic approaches. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.