Social scientists have long been intrigued by self-esteem over a lifetime, how it ebbs and flows, and whether gender makes a difference in how good or bad we feel about ourselves. But findings have been largely limited to Western industrialized cultures.

A new study of more than 840,000 people in 48 countries reveals that pretty much everybody struggles with self-worth at times.

Among the study’s highlights:

Self-esteem is universally high during childhood. Kids, said lead author Prof. Wiebke Bleidorn of the University of California, Davis, seem to put fewer conditions on their own worth.

Adolescence is tough on everybody. As if we need a study for that.

Self-esteem increases with age. “This is definitely good news,” Bleidorn said. The rise begins in early adulthood and continues until middle adulthood when, sadly, it begins to take a dive again.

The biggest gender gap in self-esteem is found in Western cultures. Bleidorn speculates that women are more likely to compare themselves to men in affluent countries such as ours. “In other, more collectivistic cultures, women are more likely to compare themselves with other women, which may reduce the gender gap in self-esteem,” she said.

Lastly, if you’re a confident woman who wants to be around like-minded women, move to Turkey, Thailand or Hong Kong. “I don’t know if the move will do the trick,” said an amused Bleidorn, “but, yes, these are cultures in which the gender gap was very small.” □