This study finds that traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem and an increase in risky behaviors during their middle-school years. The study particularly examines how beliefs about the fairness of the American system (system justification) in sixth grade influence trajectories of self‐esteem and behavior among middle school-aged participants. System justification was associated with higher self‐esteem, less delinquent behavior, and better classroom behavior in sixth grade but worse trajectories of these outcomes from sixth to eighth grade. This study is considered to be the first evidence linking preteens’ emotional and behavioral outcomes to their belief in meritocracy – the popular belief that individual merit is always rewarded, and that early adolescence is a critical development period for this process.
Godfrey, E. B., Santos, C. E., & Burson, E. (2017). For better or worse? System‐justifying beliefs in sixth‐grade predict trajectories of self‐esteem and behavior across early adolescence. Child Development. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12854