Changes in Children’s Self-Competence and Values: Gender and Domain Differences across Grades One through Twelve



This study extended previous research on changes in children’s self-beliefs by documenting domain-specific growth trajectories for 761 children across grades 1 through 12 in a longitudinal study of perceptions of self-competence and task values. Hierarchical Linear Modeling was used to (1) describe changes in beliefs across childhood and adolescence within the domains of mathematics, language arts, and sports; (2) examine the impact of changes in competence beliefs on changes in values over time in the same domains; and (3) describe gender differences in mean levels and trajectories of change in competence beliefs and values. The most striking finding across all domains was that self-perceptions of competence and subjective task values declined as children got older, although the extent and rate of decline varied across domains. For example, in language arts, competence beliefs declined rapidly during the elementary school years, but then leveled off or increased to some extent; whereas the decline in self-competence beliefs in sports accelerated during the high school years. Significant gender differences in beliefs were found in most domains; however, the gender differences in developmental trajectories appeared to be domain specific rather than global. Importantly, the gender differences between boys and girls did not systematically increase with age, as predicted by some socialization perspectives. Adding competence beliefs as an explanatory variable to the model for task values revealed that changes in competence beliefs accounted for much of the age-related decline in task values. In addition, competence beliefs accounted for most of the gender differences in task values for language arts and sports.