Research suggests that self-esteem increases during late adolescence and young adulthood, but that there is large interindividual variability in this development. However, little is known about the factors accounting for these findings. Using propensity score matching, we tested whether important transitions in the domain of romantic relationships (i.e., beginning a relationship, marrying, and breaking up) explain why individuals differ in the particular self-esteem trajectory they follow. Data came from a longitudinal German study with a large sample of 3 nationally representative cohorts of late adolescents and young adults (total N = 9,069). The analyses were based on 4 assessments across a 3-year period. Using matched samples, the results showed that beginning a relationship increased self-esteem and that the increase persisted when the relationship held at least for 1 year. Experiencing a relationship break-up decreased self-esteem, but the effect disappeared after 1 year, even if the participant stayed single. Marrying did not influence self-esteem. Additionally, we tested for selection effects of self-esteem on the later occurrence of relationship transitions. High self-esteem predicted the beginning of a relationship and low self-esteem predicted relationship break-up. All findings held across gender, age, and migration background. Furthermore, relationship quality mediated the effect of self-esteem on relationship break-up and the effect of beginning a longer versus a short relationship on self-esteem. The findings have significant implications because they show that self-esteem influences whether important transitions occur in the relationship domain and that, in turn, experiencing these transitions influences the further development of self-esteem. (PsycINFO Database Record
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