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The Self-Esteem Sentence: Evidence for Labeling Theory


Labeling theory proposes that the criminal label produces changes in the self-concept. Lemert (1951) thought that the secondary label was responsible for changes in the self-concept. The evaluative component of the self-concept is self-esteem, which is defined as the positive or negative evaluation of the self (Rosenberg, 1979). Drawing on William James’ theory of self-esteem (1890), the present study examined the effects of the criminal label on self-esteem, and the secondary label on self-esteem. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health sample measured self-esteem at two points in time; before (Wave I) and after (Wave III) the criminal labeling period. The OLS regression revealed that the criminal label (p < .05) causes negative changes in self-esteem. Furthermore, the secondary label was responsible for the most significant negative changes in self-esteem (p < .01). These findings can be generalized to the United States population.

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