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Self-Esteem and the Reproduction of Social Class


  • The first author will share all data and coding for replication purposes. We wish to thank Tim Heaton, Ralph Brown, Lance Erickson, and Claire Altman for helpful input.



Although prior research has demonstrated the multiple pathways through which socioeconomic attainment occurs, one unexplored avenue regards the role of psychological mechanisms such as self-esteem in this process.


Using three waves of data from the National Survey of Families and Households (N = 1,952), we employed structural equation models to examine the relationship between parenting practices and attitudes, socioeconomic status, offspring's self-esteem, and the likelihood of offspring college attendance.


Self-esteem was positively related to the likelihood of offspring's college attendance. Additionally, self-esteem was found to be a modest mediator of the relationship between parental educational expectations and parental income, respectively, and the likelihood of offspring completing or being currently enrolled in college.


Self-esteem may constitute one previously unconsidered mechanism for reproducing the class structure in the United States.