Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale: What to Know

How we feel about ourselves can change from day to day in relation to our experiences, including our successes and failures, but self-esteem is a more enduring measure of feelings of self-worth.

Self-esteem is an evaluation of how we view ourselves overall, positively or negatively. Someone who regards themselves positively has high self-esteem, while those who view themselves negatively have low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is one component of self-concept, along with others such as self-efficacy or mastery, and self-identities.

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What is the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale?

Self-esteem can be evaluated in a number of ways, but one of the most widely used in the mental health community is the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES). The RSES was developed in 1965 by Morris Rosenberg.

The RSES lists 10 statements (five positive, five negative), each typically paired with four response choices ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree." The RSES is public domain, so it can be adapted for specific uses, and several versions of the scale exist.

Psychological researchers frequently use the RSES because it is straightforward, short, and convenient.

The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale Is Not a Substitute for Professional Assessment

Do not use the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale to diagnose emotional issues or as a substitute for seeing a mental health professional.

How to Use the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale

Though not always listed in the same order, typically the items for the RSES are:

  1. On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.
  2. At times, I think I am no good at all.
  3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.
  4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.
  5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
  6. I certainly feel useless at times.
  7. I feel that I’m a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others.
  8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.
  9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.
  10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

How to Calculate the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale

To calculate your score, you need to consult the scoring key for the version of the RSES you are using. Different versions assign different values to each answer, and the order of the questions matters to the key.

In general, each item is given a score value range of 0–3.

Positively phrased responses, such as "I feel that I have a number of good qualities" are scored as:

  • Strongly disagree: 0
  • Disagree: 1
  • Agree: 2
  • Strongly agree: 3

Negatively phrased responses, such as "At times, I think I am no good at all" are scored in reverse, as:

  • Strongly disagree: 3
  • Disagree: 2
  • Agree: 1
  • Strongly agree: 0

Most versions will give a scoring key to tell you which items to score in reverse, either by putting an indication next to those items or by specifying which items by number.

Some versions use a scale of 1–4 instead of 0–3.

Total the numbers at the end.

Interpreting Results

Depending on the numerical values of the responses, the total score will range from either 0–30 or 10–40.

There is no set agreed-upon cutoff point for low or high self-esteem. The RSES is meant to be used in conjunction with Rosenberg's literature and other information on the population being studied.

The global (total) score is sometimes divided into three levels:

  • Low (10–25): Feelings of incompetence, inadequacy, and difficulty facing life’s challenges
  • Medium (26–29): Fluctuating between feelings of approval and rejection
  • High (30–40): Self-judgment of value, confidence, and competence

The above numbers derive from a study that used a 1–4 system and do not correlate to those that calculate using a 0–3 system. The definitions and applications of levels of self-esteem can also vary in interpretation.

Is the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale Reliable?

The reliability of the RSES is supported by research, though different studies debate how best to use it and interpret it. It's recommended that the scale not be used alone or as a sole measure of self-esteem, but rather as part of an overall analysis.

The RSES is widely used. It has been translated into at least 28 languages and studied in at least 53 countries. As of February 2020, it has been cited over 40,000 times (according to Google Scholar) and used in almost 50% of empirical studies on self-esteem published in major scientific journals.

The development of self-esteem starts in childhood and many factors influence it, including:

Self-esteem in adults is typically stabler and harder to influence, but positive change can happen.

Helping Children Build Positive Self-Esteem

Ways you can help foster self-esteem in children include:

  • Kind words
  • Encouragement
  • Telling them the good you see in them
  • Noticing when they try new things or learn to do something
  • Helping them build a positive and healthy "inner voice"
  • Being patient
  • Listening to them
  • Speaking to them respectfully
  • Giving them appropriate attention and affection
  • Acknowledging and accepting their mistakes or failures

Raising Self-Esteem in Teens and Adults

Talking to a mental health professional is a good start for working on improving your self-esteem. They can offer techniques to change deep-rooted thought processes and help you work through your feelings and experiences, past and present.

Things to try in addition to professional help include:

  • Spend time with those who treat you well
  • Talk to yourself the same way you would talk to a good friend (be kind!)
  • Do your best but accept when you're not perfect
  • Make realistic goals and work toward them
  • Focus on the things that go well
  • Help others
  • Challenge the negative messages from your unfairly harsh inner critic
  • Treat yourself with compassion
  • Forgive yourself when you make mistakes
  • Ask for help when you need it


Self-esteem is how we see ourselves overall. It largely develops in childhood and stabilizes in adulthood, but it can change.

People who view themselves positively have high self-esteem. People who view themselves negatively have low self-esteem. It's also possible to fall somewhere in the middle.

The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a 10-item questionnaire that psychologist Morris Rosenberg developed in 1965. It is the most common measure of self-esteem researchers use. It can be both scored and interpreted in a number of ways, so it is important to check the test's instructions.

A Word From Verywell 

Chances are you already have some idea of what your self-esteem is like. The RSES is unlikely to give you very surprising results as an individual, even though it is a very useful tool for studying self-esteem. Taking the test may still give you further insight into yourself, not as a diagnostic tool but for your own information.

If your self-esteem is lower than you'd like it to be, talk to a mental health professional. There are ways to improve your self-esteem and help you see how great you really are.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some signs of low self-esteem?

    People with low self-esteem may:

    • Focus more on what goes wrong than what goes right
    • Think they aren't as good as others or good enough
    • Feel they aren't liked or accepted
    • Be hard on themselves
    • Give up easily (because they are afraid to fail)
    • Unfairly blame themselves
    • Judge how they feel about themselves by how they are doing in the present
    • Have difficulty accepting their strengths and weaknesses while still recognizing they are worthy and worthwhile
  • What causes low self-esteem?

    Self-esteem typically develops in childhood. Childhood experiences that may contribute to low self-esteem include:

    • Getting harshly criticized, ignored, ridiculed, or teased by parents/guardians or others
    • Abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional)
    • Unreasonably high expectations put on them
    • Having their failures (such as getting a poor grade or losing a game) associated with their whole self
    • Receiving more criticism than praise

    Life experiences as an adult can also factor into low self-esteem, including:

17 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.