Demographic and Educational Influences on the Self-Esteem of Adolescents from Divorced and Intact Families in Rural Areas

Lindsey R. Guthman
Dr. Rebecca A. Robles-Pina
Sam Houston State University

Abstract

Researchers of self-esteem have debated the effects of parental marital status on the self-esteem of adolescents, and the results have supported differing points of view. To further investigate this topic, the purpose of this study was to examine the impact of educational and demographic factors on the self-esteem of adolescents from divorced and intact families. Some of the factors investigated were parental marital status, gender, ethnicity, age, and participation in extracurricular activities. Findings suggested that there were no significant differences between gender and ethnic groups on the self-esteem scores of adolescents from divorced and intact families. Of noteworthy significance was that the adolescents from intact families participated in extracurricular activities 75% more often than adolescents from divorced families; moreover, their self-esteem scores were higher. Implications on research and counseling were noted.

Divorced and Intact Families in Rural Areas

With divorce on the rise, the issue of how divorce affects children has been the topic of interest over the years. Research indicated that divorce has long-term effects on children. According to Whitehead (1993), children do not recover after divorce and the disturbance of the family can have long-term psychological effects. It has been demonstrated that divorce has had an impact on issues such as anxiety and conflict (Slater & Haber, 1984), social desirability (Allen, Stoltenberg, & Rosko, 1990), self-concept (Beer, 1989), family cohesiveness (Allen et al., 1990; Lanz, Iafrate, Rosnati, & Scabini, 1999), grade point average (Beer, 1989) and achievement motivation (Allen et al., 1990).

The purpose of this study was to assess whether there was a difference in self-esteem scores of adolescents in relation to parental marital status (intact or divorced). The study focused on adolescents, ages 15 to 18, from both divorced and intact families. For the purpose of this study, the term “divorced” referred to the legal separation/divorce of the biological parents of the participant; therefore, the participant was living with only one of his/her biological parents. The term “intact” referred to a family in which both biological parents live in union with their children. The term “self-esteem” referred to one’s internal feelings and evaluations of self, based on one’s perceived image. The term “extracurricular” is used to indicate any extra activity that one participates in outside of regular school curricula.

Research indicated varying results on the topic of divorce and the self-esteem of adolescents. Some research indicated significant differences between the self-esteem of children of divorced families and that of intact families. To compare children of divorced homes with children of intact homes, Bynum and Durm (1996) surveyed adolescents, ages 13 to 18, by having the participants complete a demographic questionnaire and the Culture-free Self-Esteem Inventory (Battle, 1992). Results indicated that even though both groups tended to have a high level of self-esteem, the group from intact families scored significantly higher than those from divorced families. Beer (1989) conducted a study that indicated self-esteem was significantly impacted by divorce. The participants, 61 children from grades five and six, were given the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1984), a demographic questionnaire, and other personality inventories. Beer found that children from divorced homes scored significantly lower on the self-esteem inventory than those from intact homes.

Conversely, other research findings indicated that there was no significant difference in the self-esteem of children of divorced families and that of intact families. Durm, Giddens and Blandenship (1997), conducted a study using the Culture-free Self-Esteem Inventory (Battle, 1992). The sample studied included 108 students, ages 15 to 19. Although there was a significant difference in self-esteem in the gender of the adolescents, girls had significantly lower self-esteem than boys and there was no significant difference in the self-esteem scores in relation to parental marital status. Hofmann and Zippco (1986) compared self-esteem scores from the Coopersmith Self-esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1984) from children of divorced and intact families. There was no significant difference in the scores. Gonzalez, Field, Lasko, Harding, Yando, and Bendell (1995) administered several scales measuring intimacy with parents and peers, self-esteem, depression, and risk-taking to 440 adolescents. Although there were slight differences in the variables, no significant differences were found in self-esteem.

The literature appeared to support opposing points of view. There were those who supported the hypothesis that adolescents’ self-esteem was affected by divorce, while there was an equal amount of literature that did not support this hypothesis. The literature on the factors that contributed to overall self-esteem suggested examining self-esteem in relation to school success. According to McCombs & Forehand (1989), divorce was identified as one of the most stressful events in the lives of adolescents. They added that while school success was only one factor that contributed to the overall stress experienced by adolescents with divorced parents, it was noted as one of the most sensitive indicators that contributed to stress and self-esteem. Moreover, school performance following a divorce was not the same for all individuals (McCombs & Forehand, 1989). However, they pointed out, there are buffers that mediate the impact of the divorce on school success. The two buffers identified were: (a) extended school days, and (b) after school programs. It was suggested that certain school programs or extracurricular activities may reduce academic gaps between those children of divorced and intact families and thus indirectly affect self-esteem.

Due to the inconsistency of findings in the literature, in this study it was hypothesized that educational and demographic factors have no impact on the self-esteem of adolescents who come from divorced families and the self-esteem of adolescents who come from intact families. To investigate this hypothesis, this research was guided by the following questions: (1) Is there a difference between gender and ethnicity groups in the self-esteem score of adolescents from divorced and intact families? (2) Does participation in extracurricular activities influence the self-esteem of adolescents from divorced and intact families?

Method

The sample selected for this study included a purposive sample of 64 students between the ages of 15 and 18 (M=16.42, SD=1.11) from a rural high school in southeast Texas. There was an equal representation of gender within this sample. Ethnic representation was predominately Anglo American, and representation from respondents from intact homes was slightly higher than those from divorced families (see Table 1).

Table 1
Participant Percentages of Demographic Information

N (%)
Gender Male 31 (48.4)
Female 33 (51.6)
Ethnicity African American 07 (10.9)
Anglo American 39 (60.9)
Mexican American 18 (28.2)
Age 15 19 (29.7)
16 11 (17.2)
17 22 (34.4)
18 12 (18.7)
Parental Marital Status Divorced 27 (42.2)
  Married 37 (57.8)

 

The instruments used in this study were a demographic questionnaire and the Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI) (Jerabek, 1996). The demographic questionnaire consisted of several closed-ended questions concerning demographic information, as well as parental marital status (see Appendix A). This questionnaire was created for the purpose of the study and was pre-tested on a class of master’s level counseling students to obtain content validity. Feedback was incorporated into the questionnaire. The SEI (Jerabek, 1996), which was Internet-based, had thirty questions, which utilized a Likert scale, ranging from 1-5. The norm group for the SEI was randomly selected from a pool of nearly 20,000 males and females, aged 10-80. The SEI has a possible range of 0 – 100, with low scores indicating low self-esteem. The inventory is suitable for adult and adolescent populations. Examples of some of the questions asked were “Most people around me seem to be better off than I am,” “I mess up everything I touch,” and “I am afraid of being rejected by my friends” (Jerabek, 1996). Reliability coefficients were reported for this test. An alternate forms reliability coefficient of .87 was reported. Further, a split-half reliability coefficient of .93 and an internal consistency coefficient (Chronbach’s Alpha) of .93 were reported.

Two existing groups were compared and the differences among the groups were analyzed. The self-esteem scores of students from intact families and divorced families were compared. The self-esteem scores were also compared on the levels of ethnicity, gender, and participation in extracurricular activities.

Approximately two months prior to the study, the superintendent and the high school counselor were approached to gain permission to conduct the study within the school. The nature of the study was discussed and permission was granted. Participants in this study were purposively selected due to the fact that the SEI was Internet based and access to computers was necessary. Therefore, the students in the computer skills classes were selected to be the subjects of this study. Approximately one week prior to the study, cover letters explaining the nature of the study and parental consent forms were sent home with each student in the computer skills classes, totaling 73 students. Students were informed about the benefits of the study in assisting teachers and counselors understand how to best work with students from divorced and intact families. Further, students were informed that the information gathered would be confidential, that is, names of students would not be identified in the study. Moreover, the students were informed that their lack of participation would not affect grades or status in school. Finally, students were informed that they could drop out of the study at any time, without penalty.

On the day of the study, 64 parental consent forms were returned and nine were not returned. The students were then informed of the nature of the study, what was expected of them, and that, although their parents had signed the parental consent form, they had the individual choice on whether to participate in the study. An incentive of a piece of candy was offered to any student who completed the study.

All 64 students decided to participate. The questionnaires were then administered to the students with the instructions to complete all questions honestly and not to discuss the questions with fellow students. Upon the completion of the questionnaire, the students were asked to go to the web site where the SEI was located, follow the directions on the web site, complete the inventory without discussion with classmates, and record their score on the questionnaire. Both the researcher and the teacher walked around the room and monitored the students while completing the survey and self-esteem inventory to ensure that there was no talking among the students and that the scores were recorded correctly. When the students finished the questionnaire, they were asked to bring the completed questionnaire to the researcher. The researcher checked the questionnaire to insure that it was complete and then gave the student the reward for participation. Upon receiving all of the completed questionnaires, the researcher thanked the students for their participation and time and left the classroom.

Results

The self-esteem scores of the students were analyzed by SPSS – Statistical Package for Social Sciences. The self-esteem scores of the adolescents ranged from 28 to 95. Although the self-esteem mean score of the students from intact families (M = 76.81) was slightly higher than the mean score of the students from divorced families (M = 73.22), it was not statistically significant. A t test for independent samples (t (64) = 1.48, p > .05) indicated essentially no significant differences in the self-esteem scores of the adolescents from intact and divorced families (see Table 2).

Table 2

Means of Self-esteem for Children of Divorced and Intact Families

n Mean SD
Divorced 27 73.22 12.58
Intact 37 76.81 06.58

There was also a slight difference of self-esteem scores in relation to gender. Females scored slightly higher (M = 75.69, SD = 11.40) than males (M = 74.87, SD = 7.52); yet, a second examination of the means and a t test for independent samples (t (64) = -0.34, p > .05) indicated essentially no significant differences in gender when comparing self-esteem scores (see Table 3).

Table 3

Means of Self-Esteem for Children of Divorced and Intact Families by Gender

n Mean SD
Male 31 74.87 07.52
Female 33 75.69 11.40

The variable of ethnicity also resulted in slight differences. On average, Anglo Americans had the highest self-esteem (M = 76.0, SD = 11.21), Mexican Americans had the second highest self-esteem (M = 75.06, SD = 6.57), and African Americans had the lowest self-esteem scores (M = 72.0, SD = 6.63). An Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) using a post-hoc test indicated there was not a significant difference among the groups (F (2, 64) = 0.571, p > .05) (see Table 4).

Table 4

 

Means of Self-esteem for Children of Divorced and Intact Families by Ethnicity

n Mean SD
African American 7 72.0 06.63
Anglo American 39 76 11.21
Mexican American 18 75.1 .6057

Note. Maximum self-esteem score = 100. Minimum self-esteem score = 0.

N = 64.

The effects extracurricular activities had on the self-esteem of divorced and intact families were also analyzed. Of the participants, 59 (92%) of the 64 were active in at least one activity and 46 (72%) were active in three or more activities (see Table 5).

Table 5

Means for Self-esteem of Adolescents of Divorced and Intact Families and Participation in Extracurricular Activities

OVERALL DIVORCED(-) INTACT(+)
#Activities n Self-Esteem n Self-Esteem n Self-Esteem D
0 5 64.2 4 62.8> 1 74.0 +11.21
1 8 77.4 3 79.3 5 76.2 -3.1
2 6 75.3 2 75.0 4 75.5 +0.5
3 12 78.2 6 80.6 6 75.7 -4.9
4 9 76.4 4 74.7 5 77.8 +3.1
5 15 73.5 5 66.0 10 77.2 +4.2
6 5 79.4 2 77 3 81.0 +4.0
7+ 4 74.5 1 71.0 3 75.6 +4.6

 

Note. Activities include both in school and out of school activities.

N=64

 

In examining the difference between the self-esteem scores of the adolescents from divorced and intact families by the number of extracurricular activities, it was found that adolescents from intact families had more self-esteem scores in the high range than those from divorced families. Further, adolescents from intact families participated in extracurricular activities 75% more often than adolescents from divorced families.

Discussion

Limitations of this study were several. One, due to the small sample size, the generalizability of this study was compromised. The findings are only generalizable to adolescents matching the characteristics of this particular sample. Two, the self-report nature of this study may have compromised the veracity of the information reported and thus introduced some bias. Third, the students recorded their own scores on the Self-Esteem Inventory and thus, introduced some bias that may have been addressed if the researcher had actually scored the answers.

There were slight differences in the self-esteem scores among the different variables. The self-esteem scores of adolescents from intact families were slightly higher (M=76.81) than that of divorced families (M=73.22). Although there was a slight numerical difference, both of the overall averages indicated high self-esteem for both groups. There was also a small difference in scores in terms of gender. Females had higher self-esteem scores (M=75.69) than males (M=74.87); yet, again, the scores indicated high self-esteem for both groups. Within ethnicity, Anglo Americans had the highest self-esteem (M=76.0) and African Americans had the lowest among the group (M=72.0); yet, all ethnic groups fall in to the high self-esteem range. As an overall group, the participants had a high self-esteem with only slight variants among the variables.

The current findings add support to previous findings as well as refute other findings. In the studies conducted by Durm et al. (1997), Hofmann and Zippco (1986) and Gonzalez et al. (1995), there was no significant difference in relation to self-esteem and parental marital status; therefore, the present study supports these previous findings. The study conducted by Durm et al. (1997) also found that there was a significant difference in self-esteem scores in relation to gender; yet, the current study refutes these findings. The current findings also refute the previous findings of Bynum and Durm (1996) and Beer (1989) who found that the self-esteem of adolescents was significantly different in relation to parental marital status.

As previously mentioned, there was no significant difference in the self-esteem scores of adolescents from intact and divorced families. Explanations for the findings vary. One explanation could be the result of the social networks and the activity level of the students. Another explanation might be that the participants in the study were from a small, rural school and were quite active in school and community activities.

As related to how participation in extracurricular activities affects self-esteem, there were some noteworthy findings. Findings suggested that 92% of the participants were active in at least one activity and 72% were active in three or more activities. This indicates that a majority of the adolescents’ self-esteem scores were higher when they participated in extracurricular activities. This finding suggests that more research be done in this area to verify if extracurricular activities can become a mediator in the effects of divorce. It is particularly important to find out the interaction of divorce and extracurricular activities and students’ self-esteem. An explanation for this finding may be that by participating in various activities including athletics and school and local organizations, the participants have social networks that could have a possible impact on self-esteem.

In future research, focus needs to not only be on the parental marital status of the biological parents in relation to self-esteem but also on the status of remarriage to other partners of the biological parents, and the current relationship of the biological parents in relation to self-esteem. Further, the conflict level in the home and the support network surrounding the adolescent should be examined to determine the contribution of these dynamics to self-esteem. Other research attributed to the impact of self-esteem should focus on the participation in extracurricular activity level of adolescents, the effect of the type of extracurricular activity engaged in, the community in which the adolescent lives (rural or urban), and grade point average.

Based on the current findings, when dealing with a self-esteem issue, mental health practitioners and school counselors are encouraged to support children and adolescents of divorced parents in becoming involved in extracurricular activities. Although the client may be from a divorced home, research indicates that becoming actively involved in clubs and organizations is a possible factor to positive self-esteem.

Previous research indicated diverse opinions about the effect parental marital status had on the self-esteem of adolescents. According to the current findings, no such relationship exists. This is not to say that other variables of divorce such as conflict, isolation, and a sense of loss do not have a relation to the self-esteem of adolescents. Future research is necessary to determine any further correlations relative to divorce.

 

References

Allen, S.F., Stoltenberg, C.D., & Rosko, C.K. (1990). Perceived psychological separation of older adolescents and young adults from their parents: A comparison of divorced versus intact families. Journal of Counseling and Development, 69, 57-61.

Battle, J. (1992). Culture-free self-esteem inventories. (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Beer, J. (1989). Relationship of divorce to self-concept, self-esteem, and grade point average of fifth and sixth grade school children. Psychological Reports, 65, 1379-1383.

Bynum, M.K. & Durm, M.W. (1996). Children of divorce and its effect on their self-esteem. Psychological Reports, 79, 447-450.

Coopersmith, S. (1984). Self-esteem inventories. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists.

Durm, M.W., Giddens, A., & Blandenship, M. (1997). Parental marital status and self-esteem of boys and girls. Psychological Reports, 81, 125-126.

Gonzalez, K.P., Field, T.M., Lasko, D., Harding, J., Yando, R., & Bendell, D. (1995). Adolescents from divorced and intact families. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 23(3/4), 165-175.

Hofmann, R. & Zippco, D. (1986). Effects of divorce upon school self-esteem and achievement of 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old children. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 62, 397-398

Jerabek, I. (1996). Self-esteem inventory. Plumeus, Inc., http://www.psychtests.com/tests/health/self_esteem.html.

Lanz, M., Iafrate, R., Rosnati, R., & Scabini, E. (1999). Parent-child communication and adolescent self-esteem in separated, intercountry adoptive and intact non-adoptive families. Journal of Adolescence, 22, 785-794.

McCombs, A., & Forehand, R. (1989). Adolescent school performance following parental divorce: Are there family factors, which can enhance success? Adolescence, 24, 639-646.

Slater, E.J. & Haber, J.D. (1984). Adolescent adjustment following divorce as a function of familial conflict. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52(5), 920-921.

Whitehead, B.D. (1993). Dan Quayle was right. The Atlantic, 271(4), 47-68.

Appendix A

 

Please take a moment to complete this questionnaire.

Do not write your name on this paper.

 

 

Sex: male ____ female ____ Age: ____

Grade Level: 9th 10th 11th 12th

Ethnicity: African American ____ Anglo American ____

Mexican American ____ Other (specify) ___________________

List your activities in school:

List your activities outside of school:

Do you have a pet? Yes ____ No ____

Are your parents divorced? Yes ____ No ____

If you answered YES, have your parents remarried?

Mother: Yes ____ No ____

Father: Yes ____ No ____

Do you have any brothers or sisters? Yes ____ No ____

Do you plan to attend college? Yes ____ No ____

In the future, do you plan to get married? Yes ____ No ____

In the future, do you plan to have children? Yes ____ No ____

 

You are now going to complete a self-esteem inventory.

Go to this website: http://www.psychtests.com/tests/health/self_esteem.html

Follow the instructions given on the website.

Answer the questions honestly.

When you reach the end, click “SCORE”.

Record your score.Self-Esteem Score _______

About the Authors

Lindsey R. Guthman is a graduate student at Sam Houston State University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling. She is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Counseling and is pursuing Licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Counselor. Her research interests center around families and adolescents, with a special interest in divorce and its effect on family dynamics.

Rebecca A. Robles-Pina is an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling. Her research interests are in multicultural counseling competencies, minorities’ performance on standardized tests, and assessments used on culturally and linguistically diverse students.