One of the many theories in history is social role theory suggested by both Orville Brim and Talcott Parsons (Newman and Newman, 2012). Both sociologists believed socialization and personality development was the result of participation (Newman and Newman, 2012) in social roles they had in life, and they defined those roles as behaviors that had a socially agreed upon function and accepted code of norms. One could say that behavior was influenced by social positions. Brim and Parsons idea of social of roles came from theatre, and they purported that individuals in society occupied similar social positions in life (Newman and Newman, 2012). People’s performance in these social roles or positions is determined by demands, rules, and the reactions of others in response to their roles.
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According to Brim and Parsons, social role theory has three elements (Newman and Newman, 2012) of concern that apply to social life. These include social roles, role enactment, and role expectations (Newman and Newman). Social roles are the roles we play in life such as employee, mother, or child. We may have many different roles in our lives, and, as we get older or our situations change, we may take on more. For example, when a married woman has a child, she then has the role of both wife and caretaker. If she later joins the workforce, she assumes the role of worker in addition to the roles she already has. She then acts or has a part in the play of worker, mother, and wife.
The second element of social role is role enactment, which is the behavior that serves as the outcome of the role (Newman and Newman). With enactment being the conduct of the person’s role, the last element is role expectation which is the performance of the actor’s role. The actor must know or learn his or her obligations and duties. For example sixteen year old with a new driver’s license has the role of driver and the responsibilities that come with it. As people enter into and modify each of their roles, they modify their behavior to
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conform to the expectations, and each role is linked to several reciprocal roles (Newman and Newman, 2012). For example, a parent and a child, a bully and a victim, or a doctor and a patient reciprocal roles. Each role is partly defined by the roles that support it and the function of the role by its surrounding role groups (Newman and Newman, 2012).
Almost everyone balances multiple commitments to a spouse, children, job, parents, and friends (Newman and Newman, 2012). Once a person has decided on a position or positions in life, the demands of their roles may cause further restraints. This could result in role overload, role conflict, or role spillover (Newman and Newman, 2001). When the actor’s part has too many demands and there is not enough time allowed to meet them, it is known as overload.
For example, employees may have to take on the extra work and meet the same deadline of an employee who left the company creating overload for everyone. When we find ourselves pulled in too many directions from the roles we play in life (expectations), it may create role conflict. It can also happen when we go from one role to many or are forced to make choices between them. Sometimes we have to compromise with our roles and it creates conflict because it doesn’t satisfy either one. For example, similar to conflict is spillover, which happens when one role prevents us from carrying out the demands of another role (Newman and Newman, 2012). Evaluation
Role strain is similar to role conflict and is often defined as difficulty meeting roles or balancing competing role demands (Newman and Newman, 2012). Many of today’s single parents or working parents experience role strain. According to Scharlach (2001), todays employees are faced with greater work and family responsibilities than ever before. With most parents in the paid workforce, having children under the age of six difficulties can be experienced by working these parents as they attempt to balance competing demands of employment and childrearing (Scharlach, 2001). Additionally, more than 70% of working parents expressed stress as a result of conflict between their work and family roles (Scharlach, 200).
Role strain happens when it is too hard to cope with work and family demands because of lack of resources. Schedules and hours often fall into work related variables while division of household labor and time spent in caregiving fall into family variables (Lee, Vernon-Feagans, Vazquez, and Kolak, 2003). Research has shown that role strain is more likely to affect women in dual-earner families as women often shoulder more of the responsibilities of both the home and the family. Furthermore, this unequal division of labor increases the risk of spillover from one role to the other for women (Lee et al., 2003). Researchers interested in the roles of family have begun to look at the effects of parental role strain on child functioning. According to Lee et al. (2003), families with lower role conflict and more emotional expressiveness and organization have been found to function better.
One of the major factors affecting the structure of family in recent years has been the increase in single parenting families, 90% of which are headed by women (Burden, 2001). In spite of increased employment opportunities for women, one issue still facing single mothers and their children today is poverty. Single females who balance the role of caregiver and worker experience a great deal of emotional difficulty (strain) as they only have themselves to rely on for a source of income. Single women who are parents often maintain their performance both at work and home at the expense of their physical and emotional well-being (Burden, 2001). Two Strengths and Weaknesses
One strength of role theory is the idea that individuals take on roles as they move from one life stage to another. In a sense, if they are expected to fill certain roles in life, they will. For example, as a child reaches the age related to high school, they will take on the roles related to high school student and demonstrate relevant skills (Newman and Newman, 2012). Doing his homework on time, passing his courses, and maybe electing to participate in a sport or school club shows he understands his role.
It can also happen in teams, organizations, and societies, if the company is using role theory to help employees succeed in a positive way. The power of role theory is recognizable and social roles provide consistency to life experience and prompts opportunities for new learning (Newman and Newman, 2012). Although the above mentioned can be positive, it’s worth mentioning that role theory rests on the assumption that many people want affirmation and they seek this by conforming. People behave in a way that is expected, even if it is not what the individual wants. This can be the divorced parent, single parent, peacemaker, workaholic, responsible one, or victim. Newman and Newman (2012), also suggest that personal involvement in relationships contribute to ones formation of social identity. Individuals who are members of groups that suffer discrimination and injustice may make radical shifts in their lives in a desire to move to another system with a more rewarding role. Cultural Competence
Social role theory uses a structural approach rather than a cultural approach in that family, organizations, and communities have caused different behavior in men and women (Dulin, 2007). Perception is that roles are based on gender and stereotypical gender roles are forms by social norms that apply people of certain social positions (Dulin, 2007). In other words, society has shared expectations of women, and these expectations form gender roles for both women and men (Dulin, 2007).
As a result, people tend to do what is expected of them or act in ways that the roles imply, resulting in a perpetuation of sex differences. Division of labor was the possible culprit that designated the differences between males and females inducing gender role expectations and sex-typed beliefs and behaviors (Dulin, 2007). However, as women progress in the work world, certain stereotypes are disappearing and or changing (Dulin, 2007). One limitation to sole role theory may be that it’s not as relevant to today’s culture as it may have been in the 1980’s (Dulin, 2007). With gender roles not being as pronounced or defined as 20 years ago social role theory does not appear culturally competent in today’s society. Social Policy Implication
Throughout history social role theory has recognized a division of labor with women as caretakers at home and men assuming responsibilities outside the home. With increased single parenting in recent decades, primary implications for government policy relate to the situation of parent employees as a whole, females in particular, since they have responsibility of both family and job (Burden, 2001). Female single parents receive lower salaries, work longer hours at combined job and home responsibilities, and experience greater job-family role strain and lower levels emotional well-being (Burden, 2001). With almost half the workforce now comprising women, policy needs to include incentives to lessen the inequality currently experienced by women in the workforce (Burden, 2001).
Current policy has been based on traditional families of woman’s role of child bearer and man’s role as breadwinner. Therefore, policies need to address the demand and supply side of discrimination against women and single parents in the work place (Burden, 2001). Demand policies would include affirmative action, on the job training to increase mobility, and programs to provide support to parent employees. Supply policies would include childcare programs, employment and training programs, and enforcement of child support to improve economic status (Burden, 2001). Social Role Theory and Psychosocial Theory
Though I see the importance of social role, I believe I would use psychosocial theory more in my career as a social worker. I can understand Brim and Talcott’s approach of people as actors with a part to play and having a script to follow (Newman and Newman, 2001). However, Erikson’s theory is clearer to me. With regard to human development, psychosocial development addresses growth across the life span, assumes individuals have the capacity to contribute to their own psychological development at each stage, and takes into consideration culture for individual growth (Newman and Newman, 2001).
Erikson purports there are 8 stages of development, and if each stage is completed well Erickson suggests a new sense of mastery or competence in life. This does not mean, however, that a person cannot function if a stage or level has not been achieved or reached. This would be true in the case of single parents experiencing difficulty balancing numerous responsibilities. In future practice I would be sure to look at what stage of development the individual was in, or possibly reverting back to. Resolving psychosocial crisis and coping behaviors would be key elements in working with struggling single parent families.See More on Psychology