Gender Roles, Aging and Self-Esteem in Swedish vs. Chilean culture

Gender Roles, Aging and Self-Esteem in Swedish vs. Chilean culture


Psychological functioning is an amalgam of emotions and cognitions. Emotions exist as a continuum with the negative end being referred to as psychological distress and the positive being referred to as psychological wellbeing. On the other hand, cognitions entail world views, perceptions and thoughts. There are many factors that determine an individuals psychological functioning including age, gender, family status, health, education, race, economic status, and employment. Personal control versus powerlessness and trust versus mistrust are the two fundamental concepts that are encompassed in cognitions. In this paper, an analysis of the roles played by gender and age and self-esteem in psychological functioning in two different cultures will be discussed.

Gender roles

Most of the behavior acquired by children is through what is around them. While growing up, every child is exposed to certain roles based on their biological sex. Gender roles are a concept in society that deals with the expected behavior of males and females. These behaviors are developed due to societal norms and standards. Psychologists assert that role learning is communicated through four distinct ways and starts with socialization immediately after the child is born. These ways are peer pressure, family, mass media and education (Fausto-Sterling, 2000). These agents formulate and maintain expectations for every gender which form the basis for gender roles. Exposure to these agents causes people to think that they are acting naturally while in the real sense, they are conforming to socially constructed roles.

In this day and age, there are numerous reforms that have led to equality in the rights enjoyed by both men and women. However, in Chile, women still feel the pressure of traditional roles. It has been found that up to 62% of Chileans expressed their opposition to full gender equality and were of the opinion that the best suited roles for women were those of mother and wife (Haas, 2010). These barriers to universal equality exist even where legal equality has been guaranteed. This pattern is also evident in Japan where despite women enjoying numerous rights to equal opportunities and rights to choose their own spouses, societal pressure still seeks to curtail these rights. Women who are unwed are still looked skeptically (Spade & Valentine, 2011). In Sweden however, women are much more liberalized and the government has ensured that there rights are protected especially in the workplace. They are entitled of up to sixteen months paid leave per child with the costs incurred being shared by the government and the employer (Rothschild, 2012). The minority parent, in this case being the father, is entitled to two months of the same paid leave.

This shows that the latter country recognizes the roles played by women in child bearing and nurturing and have moved to entrench them in their other spheres of life rather than relegate them to only those responsibilities (Barash & Eve, 2002). The fundamental difference between the Swedish culture and that of the Chilean one is that the former, while recognizing the unique biological roles of women, has moved to ensure that these women do not lose their jobs or pay simply because they are mothers. The latter culture however does not have such provisions meaning that women who have had children are forced by societal pressures to relinquish their careers for the sake of nurturing their children. The fundamental point of note in the Chilean culture is that part of the 62% of those that feel that there is no need for full gender equality are women. While the law has been drastically changed to encompass equality, women still feel the pressure to conform to their traditional roles. This does not mean that women in the Swedish culture have no pressure to conform to their traditional roles. On the contrary, women everywhere are pressurized by society due to the upbringing of girls. Kane argues that by age two, children are aware of their gender roles and by age five, they are culturally entrenched into them (2006). The psychological functioning of both boys and girls is fundamentally different since they are exposed to different sets of circumstances and so is that of women in different cultures.

Age and self-esteem  

Blascovich and Tomaka described self-esteem as “an individual’s sense of his or her value or worth, or the extent to which a person values, approves of, appreciates, prizes, or likes him or herself” (1991). Self esteem is a trait that stabilizes in individuals over time. However, it is still subject to individual perceptions about their circumstances. It is worth noting that people steadily gain in self-esteem as they age. Numerous studies have pegged 60 as the age at which a person reaches the highest level of self esteem (Twenge & Campbell, 2001).

However, after retirement at this age, many people tend to start losing their self-esteem. The studies done on different age groups have revealed that self esteem is directly linked to the level of crime, health, depression and success that a person enjoys (Baumeister et al, 2003). As people age, they become more conscious of their education, ethnicity, income, social support, marital status and health which at first puts immense pressure on them which may reduce self-esteem. These concerns vary from culture to culture and affect the lives of different age groups differently. Some of the general conclusions include that men usually have a higher self-esteem than women for most of their lives but these disparities converge when both genders reach their 80s; there is no disparity in the self-esteem levels of blacks and white during young adulthood and middle age and that blacks were found as losing their self-esteem at a faster rate than the whites.

Major life events affect the self-esteem of individuals. In developed countries like Sweden, people usually have a fixed set of steps that they undertake while aging subject to government policy (Rothschild, 2012). For example, children are guaranteed of quality education up to college level which in turn improves their chances of self sustenance on completion. This is in sharp contrast to developing countries like Chile where there is no universal education meaning that not all children are guaranteed of accessing it thus limiting their future opportunities. Comparing these two groups reveals deeply rooted differences that ultimately affect the self-esteem of people in the culture. In the same instance, developed countries usually have universal access to healthcare. This means that there are distinct facilities for people with different conditions or at different stages in their lives. Senior citizens in Sweden, for example, are more likely to have access to facilities that improve their quality of life compared to those in Chile. While both cultures value their elderly, their differences in capacity lead to those people having different lifestyles which ultimately affects their psychological functioning.


Psychological functioning is influenced by a number of different factors. Key among them is the social norms that are placed upon individuals. This psychological phenomenon determines how people react and perceive different circumstances. In the case of gender roles, people are conditioned to ascribe to different roles due to their exposure to societal expectations. Women and men are thus brought up to think differently based on their gender as informed by their conformance to the societal norms. On the other hand, people have different levels of self-esteem based on the age they are in. Young adults have lower self-esteem than older adults since they do not have the stability of the latter (Ulrich et al, 2010). Most young adults are going through the motions and thus do not have the luxury of comfort. The psychological functioning due to gender roles and self esteem and aging are different in cultures across the globe. Although there is legislation that curtails some of the negative effects of the conditioned functioning, prejudicial and discriminative behaviors still persist. In some African cultures, despite advances in legislation, girls still do not go to school and are married off once they reach teenage. This is due to the notion that girls are meant to be nurturers. In advanced societies like Sweden, gender roles also determine certain facts of life like the choice of career for men and women. Similarly people’s self-esteem is different in different age groups in the different cultures. A Swedish young adult for example is likely to have a higher self-esteem than an age mate in Chile due to the numerous opportunities that are present in the former. Psychological functioning is therefore determined by many factors depending on how the society expects people to behave and people’s own perceptions of themselves.



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