The static electric dipole polarizability of a system is a measure of the binding of its electrons. In density functional theory calculations, this binding is weakened by the presence of unphysical self-interaction in the density functional approximation (DFA), leading to overestimates of polarizabilities. To investigate this systematically we compare polarizabilities for the atoms from H to Ar and their anions and cations calculated in several DFAs and the corresponding self-interaction-corrected (SIC) DFAs with experiment and with high-level quantum chemistry reference values. The SIC results are obtained using the Fermi-Löwdin orbital self-interaction correction (FLO-SIC) method. Removing self-interaction generally leads to smaller polarizabilities that agree significantly better with reference values. We find that FLO-SIC improves the performance of the local spin density approximation and the generalized gradient approximation (GGA) for polarizabilities to a quality that is comparable to so-called rung 4 functionals, but slightly degrades the performance of the strongly constrained and appropriately normed meta-GGA functional.