Background Self-esteem is regarded as vital to children’s social and cognitive development and emotional well-being. To date, a few studies have suggested that arts activities can improve self-esteem in young people. However, such studies have mainly focused on small samples. This research therefore used a UK national, representative study, Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), to explore the relationship between arts engagement and children’s self-esteem. Given that arts engagement is socially patterned, propensity score matching (PSM) was implemented for analysis.
Methods This study analysed data from the MCS Sweep 5 interviews when respondents were aged 11 (N=6209). Children’s self-esteem was measured using Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale (standardised). Arts engagement was measured through asking children how often they (1) listen to or play music, (2) draw, paint, or make things, and (3) read for enjoyment, outside school. Two sets of binary indicators were generated. Set A focused on whether children were engaged in these activities most days (1=most days; 0=less often than most days). Set B focused on extremes of engagement (1=most days; 0=never or less often than once a month). PSM models were implemented using kernel matching method; post-estimation test demonstrated high matching quality.
Results Results showed that all three activities were associated with higher levels of self-esteem when matching for all identified demographic, socio-economic and familial confounders (listen to/play music: ATT=0.07, SE=0.02, p<0.01; paint, draw, and make things: ATT=0.14, SE=0.03, p<0.001; read for enjoyment: ATT=0.14, SE=0.03, p<0.001). The size of coefficients was doubled when the two comparison groups were more distinct with respect to reading frequency. Two sensitivity analyses additionally showed that (1) the relationship was more prominent when children engaged in these activities with their parents on a regular basis; and (2) there was no clear evidence that ability in either music or art activities moderated the relationship with self-esteem.
Conclusion Our findings show that arts activities have a significant association with children’s self-esteem and that children may benefit more if their parents are also involved in the activities. We also find that the engagement itself offers a variety of benefits that enhance one’s self-esteem, regardless of the ability in the activities. While PSM controls for observable factors, the causality of the association cannot be absolutely determined. However, the relevance of this research to the design and delivery of arts programmes for health is clear: arts engagement may well be important in supporting children’s self-esteem – a core marker of positive life-long development.
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