Survey shows steep drop in girls’ self-esteem

Like or self-loathe: Is time spent socialising online doing young people more harm than good?

New findings suggest the economic downturn and fast-changing social media habits are to blame for a crisis of self worth among young people, particularly girls. But what’s the solution?

A major survey of over 30,000 school pupils published yesterday has revealed that self-esteem levels among teenagers — particularly girls — have dropped significantly since 2007. The economic downturn, along with a boom in social media use, could be to blame.

According to the Schools Health Education Unit, a sudden and dramatic drop occurred among those who had felt highly confident in their own worth just after the financial crisis hit. Up until this point, there had been year-on-year increases of young people scoring in the highest brackets for self-esteem.

From a peak in 2007, when 41% of 14 and 15-year-old girls reported high levels of self-esteem, that figure has now fallen to 33%. There has also been a drop in self-esteem among boys of the same age, from 55% in 2007 to 50% in 2013.

The report’s authors suggest that the economic downturn has affected the well being of teenagers, who have become concerned about the plight of their parents, while a fast period of change in online habits has also affected happiness and confidence levels. Worryingly, 13% of those surveyed said they had received an online message that scared or upset them, and one in five had chatted with people they did not know.

The survey also revealed that significant numbers of 14- and 15-year-old girls have nothing to eat or drink for breakfast, and nearly two in three (62%) of girls of the same age and 53% of year 12- and 13-year-olds would like to lose weight.

This news is bad, but some people are taking action. Earlier this year, inspired by the rise of online campaigns such as The Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page Three, Girlguiding organised an open letter signed by more than 2,000 girls asking politicians to address issues such as body confidence.

And there is evidence that people power can make a difference. Last week a Victoria’s Secret advert featuring models with the slogan ‘the perfect body’ was pulled after it attracted more than 29,000 signatures from people angry at what they perceived to be ‘body-shaming’ tactics.

Sad face

The main problem, some suggest, is that there doesn’t seem to be a general consensus on what can be done to improve self-esteem among girls. From banning the word ‘bossy’ to getting schools to teach body confidence, the endless debates on what should be done are delaying any meaningful action.

Others say gloomy reports and studies like these are the problem, as they reinforce the idea that teenagers and low self-esteem go hand in hand. Instead we should focus on the rise of teenage-led campaigns that are challenging fashion brands and politicians. Young people need to hear a positive message: actions like these can and do make a difference.

You Decide

  1. What are the causes for this drop in self-esteem?
  2. What can be done, and who should be finding a solution to this problem?


  1. Using the statistics in this story and from your own research, create a poster or infographic highlighting the issues raised.
  2. Pretend you write an agony aunt column in a magazine. Respond to a worried reader who is concerned about how much time he or she is spending online and anxious about feelings of low self-worth.

Some People Say...

“Social media gives us a false sense of belonging.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So is social media bad for me?
Not necessarily. Networking sites are great for keeping in touch with friends and finding out what’s going on in the world. But studies have shown that the more a person uses certain networking sites, the more miserable he or she becomes. We often think that the lives of everybody else online seem more perfect, which can add to feelings of low self-esteem, jealousy and stress, so it’s important to take a break from time to time.
What should I do?
Try to monitor your usage, perhaps giving up social media just before bed. You could remove specific people that make you feel negative about yourself, and think about how your own online actions affect others. You could also focus more on your real-life relationships, try to be more active or read more.

Word Watch

Financial crisis
The UK economy entered into recession — a general and serious slowdown in economic activity — in 2007-2008. It was the worst recession since the Second World War. Many businesses closed down and unemployment soared.
The everyday sexism project
An online project which catalogues the everyday sexism experienced by women and girls. Since it was first set up in 2012, there have been more than 25,000 entries and it has spread to more than 15 countries.
No more page three
A campaign to get rid of The Sun newspaper’s Page 3, which features topless models.
Victoria’s secret
The slogan was subsequently changed to ‘a body for every body.’
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of the bestselling book Lean In, has argued that the word ‘bossy’ should be banned. She wrote: ‘When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a "leader". Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded "bossy".’

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