Survey of Iraqi teens: The more unsafe they feel, the higher their self-esteem

March 16, 2005

University of Cincinnati Associate Professor Steve Carlton-Ford is reporting an interesting preliminary finding in a rare survey that focuses on the attitudes of adolescents affected by war on their home soil. The survey of 1,000 Iraqi adolescents in 10 neighborhoods around Baghdad suggests that the more the teenagers felt that their country and city were unsafe, the more frequently they reported strong self-esteem.

The survey was conducted by study co-author Morten Ender of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who managed field surveys in Iraqi neighborhoods with the U.S. Army last summer. The youth were surveyed in 10 Baghdad neighborhoods ranging from areas that had reported attacks on multinational forces to neighborhoods that reported violent battles and deadly mortar attacks on civilians.

The variables of the survey considered nationality (the majority Arab, 88.9 percent), religion (majority Shi'a Islam, 57.5 percent), self-esteem, perceived safety, gender (majority male, 70.5 percent), importance of religious-faith, age and schooling. Among the teens, 44.4 percent chose jobs as the most important issue affecting their country.

"The persistent correlation between positive self-esteem and perceptions that Iraq and Baghdad are unsafe is just the opposite of what I would expect in a survey of young children," says Carlton-Ford, who has studied war's impact on the mortality rates of children under the age of five. He adds that psychologists and sociologists typically focus their interests on the affects of war on young children, so a similar survey on adolescents is quite rare.

Carlton-Ford found that the high self-esteem and high-perceived threat groups were: Arabs compared with minority groups Muslims compared to Christians Males compared to females

In effect, groups with the higher status in the community reported the strongest self-esteem and also the higher levels of perceived threat. "I suspect that what we're seeing in the analysis is that in times of crises, there's a strong rally of a population around country, similar to what we saw in the United States after the 2001 terrorist attacks," says Carlton-Ford.

Carolton-Ford will present the research at 8:30 a.m. Friday, March 18, at a session of the annual meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society at the Wyndham Hotel in Washington, D.C. The study is also authored by Ahoo Tabatabai, UC program coordinator for Diversity Education.

Iraqi Neighborhoods Surveyed
Sadr City
Hay Al-Mekanik


Arab 88.9%
Kurd 5.8%
Turmen 3.0%
Other 2.3%

Sunni Islam 36.3%
Shi'a Islam 57.5%
Christianity 6.0%
Other 0.2%

Male 70.5%
Female 29.5%

12 years 06.7%
13 years 09.9 %
14 years 11.1 %
15 years 16.3 %
16 years 19.7 %
17 years 36.3%

University of Cincinnati

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