Does self-esteem increase or decrease as we age?

Neither:

This study performs a meta-analysis of the mean-level of change in self-esteem across the life span. Fifty-nine studies yielded data from 130 independent samples. Results indicate that, despite slightly increasing from childhood to the first decade of young adulthood, self-esteem does not change beyond 30 years old. Self-esteem changes the most during the first decade of young adulthood. The effects of gender and time span between assessments on change in self-esteem were minimal during adolescence, while the way self-esteem is measured significantly affects change. The mean effect size was the largest with the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory and the smallest with Harter’s Self-Perception Profile. Birth cohort also significantly influences change, whereas older cohorts change to a smaller extent compared to younger cohorts.

Source: “Mean-level change in self-esteem from childhood through adulthood: Meta-analysis of longitudinal studies.” from Review of General Psychology, Vol 14(3), Sep 2010, 251-260. 

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