What Is Social Role? Definition and Meaning (Explained)

What is Social Role?

In sociology, each social status has a set of expected behavior called social roles. In other words, a social role is a number of norms that define how an individual occupying a particular status is expected to act. For e.g. the status of the husband is accompanied by the role of a husband, the status of a doctor by the role of a doctor, etc.

The social role not only regulates and organizes the behavior of a person but also provides means for accomplishing a certain task. As an element of culture, roles provide guidelines and directives necessary for an ordered society.

Interestingly, roles expectation can change over time and also differ between cultures. A few decades back, it was a role expectation for mothers to stay at home with their children while the fathers played the role of breadwinner. But today, a mother can also go out and work to become a breadwinner.


  • Young and Mack define it as “A role is a function of a status”.
  • Kingsley Davis, “the manner in which a person actually carries out the requirements of his position”.

Nature of Roles

  • Role-playing is obligatory for all members.
  • Some social roles are shared by many people. For e.g. voters, authors, ministers, teachers, etc.
  • Some social roles are voluntary and some roles are involuntary.
  • In many cases, the social role is followed by status whereas in some cases, the social status is followed by a role.

Role Conflict

When an individual has more than one status, there are more roles and it is likely that the person experiences role conflict. So, the competing demand or expectation associated with two or more statuses is called role conflict.

In a non-industrialized (pre-industrial) society, a person generally has just a few statuses, such as a spouse, parent, and villager whereas the person in an industrialized society has many statuses, and therefore many roles.

For e.g., A working father is expected to reach the workplace on time but is late because one of his children is sick. His roles as father and employee are then in conflict. A role for his father’s status dictates that he cares for his sick child, while a role for his employee status demands that he arrive at the workplace on time.

Role Strain

Not only meeting the role demands of different statuses is difficult, but it can also be difficult to meet all of the roles (obligations) of single status.

Role strain is when the role demands from a single status cause stress and burden to a person. For e.g. father has many roles such as earning, taking care of the family, and attending children’s school meetings, etc. which would make him feel stressed or even burdened. For e.g., a student status has many roles such as doing well in exams, participating in sports competitions, attending seminars and conferences, etc.

Role Strain Vs. Role Conflict

Role strain and role conflict describe different phenomena. Role strain is experienced within one particular role, such as being a student, while role conflict occurs between two different roles, such as being a student and an employee.

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