Social Role Theory: Meaning & Characteristics

"Social role theory" studies how men and women interact. The main idea is that social roles determine men's and women's points of convergence. Daily actions reinforce gendered specialization. In industrialized nations, women work with young people at home and work. Men are statistically more likely to be the primary achievers in their households and work full-time in the paid economy, especially in occupations that necessitate physical strength, assertiveness, and leadership.

What does Social Role Theory Explain?

According to theory, which can be found in developmental psychology, most people's everyday actions are performances of predetermined roles established by society (e.g., mother, manager, teacher). The rights, responsibilities, desires, guidelines, and behaviors that come with a role are all intertwined. The analysis works on the premise that human behavior is consistent and dependent on its surroundings. Comparisons between theatre and role theory are common.

The Theory Makes the Following Assertions About Human Interaction

  • The division of labor is based on the interactions between different specialized societal positions or roles.

  • People in different societal roles are expected to act in ways that are "allowed" by the community.

  • Unless they approve of the role, it is expensive for people to conform to role norms and punish those who break them.

  • These individuals are referred to as "actors" (consider it "legitimate" and "constructive").

  • There will be pressure to change one's social role if it no longer fits because of things outside the person.

Influencing variables in the formation of social roles

  • Agents' predictable behavior stems from their awareness of and satisfaction with the rewards and punishments associated with their prosocial behavior.


Definitions of "role" about role theory are highly contested. A person's social function can be determined by looking at their social standing, the behaviors that go along with that standing, or the typical behaviors of their social group. However, other theorists interpret roles as how people behave in each social position. Some people think of roles as social norms that dictate how you act in any situation. In contrast, others use the term to describe the actions generally accepted as typical for a given position.

Different types of social roles are distinguished by sociologists

  • Traditionally accepted key motivation (e.g., priest)

  • Division of Society: Ideas: in the classroom or as a cabbie -detailed functions, such as "eye witness,"

  • Social norms, such as man, woman, mother, and father, are examples of bio-sociological roles.


The gap between the sexes in authority is narrowing. There appears to be a shift in women's social role as they gain access to positions of power. Nonetheless, one of social role theory's most revealing predictions is that people who defy gender norms are judged negatively. That is, sexuality stereotypes are seen as prescribing how men and women should act rather than just describing them. For instance, females who exhibit more agentic characteristics are often viewed as less desirable. The agentic trait of competence in women also increases the possibility that they will be viewed as unapproachable. Males and females alike show prejudice against women who defy normative expectations.

Abuse of Power, or Sexual Harassment, is a Violation of Social Norms

In social role theory, men lead, and women follow. Female sexual bullying victims break these norms more often. Female supervisors, especially the few who lead large teams, experience the above discrimination. Participants addressed sexual harassment and supervision. Questions examined objective and subjective sexual harassment variables. Finally, control variables included sex, race, degree of masculinity or femininity, percentage of women in the industry, job satisfaction, job security, education, number of children, income, and hours worked.

Female supervisors were more likely to suffer from sexual harassment than non-supervisors. Those certain women may dissolve taboos. Some men might very well try to reclaim dominance by sexually harassing women. Breaking gender norms can isolate female managers and make them more susceptible to sexual harassment and objectification. Q&As from these women supported this theory. Results show that survivors are not always the most vulnerable.

Indicators of Stronger or Weaker Commitment to Social Roles

Tendency to Feel Unwelcome or Rejected- The more marginalized women feel, the more likely they are to adopt traditional feminine values like putting family before career. These people's sense of purpose and meaning fades temporarily after being marginalized or rejected. Therefore, they look elsewhere for meaningful relationships, particularly with their own family, often at the center of women's alternative sources of fulfillment. As a result, they tend to focus on home life.

Friendships with Members of the Other Sex- When more women are on a team, male members are more likely to be judged according to stereotypical gender roles. For instance, in one study by West, Heilman, Gullett, Moss-Racusin, and Magee (2012), participants worked in five groups to build models out of Lego bricks. The team members evaluated one another on their contributions and level of cohesiveness. Teams with a higher percentage of women had members who were more likely to view the contributions of all team members negatively and view the team as ineffective. Similarly, males were also more likely to receive negative evaluations. It was found, however, that teams' actual performance on this task was independent of the number of female members.


Gender differences in self-perception, values, and emotions are more pronounced in North America and Europe than in Asia and Africa, contrary to the assumptions of social role theory. Social role theory cannot account for observed differences between the sexes, such as those seen in romantic attraction and sexual envy. In contrast to men, women prioritize finding a partner who can contribute financially to the household. The theory of social roles suggests that women in subordinate roles may show this preference to make up for their perceived lack of authority. Based on their research, Wiederman and Allgeier (1992) concluded that this bias persists even in households where women earn the majority of income.


Gender roles are descriptive and prescriptive for all women instead of men in society. Given these constructive social expectations and socialization that helped prepare girls and boys for their adult roles, people view their society's division of labor as reflecting men's and women's true traits.