Self-esteem moderates the effect of wage trends on employment tenure



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Based on self-consistency theory (e.g., Swann, 1990), it was predicted that employees’ responses to naturally occurring trends in their wages received from a given employer would depend on their chronic global self-esteem levels. To test this hypothesis, the wage histories of a large sample of college students who had completed one of two self-esteem measures were tracked for up to seven years following administration of the self-esteem instrument. Among those who worked for their “focal” employer for a year or more at a self-sufficient wage level, a “wage curve” was defined as the proportionate increase in their wages over this baseline interval. Beginning with one year, and progressively extending the wage curve definition to longer baseline employment intervals, the wage curve was used, together with self-esteem and the interaction of the two, to predict subsequent employment tenure. Results indicated, as predicted, that among those employed for two or more years a significant interaction emerged, indicating a strong self-consistent response to wage curve. The basic form of this interaction was such that those with high self-esteem remained employed longer under conditions of increasing as opposed to flat or declining wages, while those with low self-esteem tended to abandon increasing wage jobs rather quickly, but persisted longer when paid flat or declining wages. This pattern appeared stronger and more robust in the sample that had completed the Tafarodi/Swann (1995) Self-liking/Self-competence (SLC) scale; the interaction was significant in the sample that had completed the Rosenberg (1965) Self-esteem scale (SES) only after four or more years of baseline employment. Of the two components of total SLC self-esteem, only self-liking was found to make an independent contribution to the self-consistent interaction effect. Results were taken as strong evidence of the influence of self-consistency forces in real world employer-employee relationships. More generally, the present findings suggest a greater importance of the self-esteem construct than is currently acknowledged; when the two were placed at odds, many presumably chose to keep their low self-esteem rather than their high salaries.