Most people associate status with the prestige of a person’s lifestyle, education, or vocation. According to sociologists, status describes the position a person occupies in a particular setting. We all occupy several statuses and play the roles that may be associated with them. A role is the set of norms, values, behaviors, and personality characteristics attached to a status. An individual may occupy the statuses of student, employee, and club president and play one or more roles with each one.

Example: Status as student

Role 1: Classroom: Attending class, taking notes, and communicating with the professor

Role 2: Fellow student: Participating in study groups, sharing ideas, quizzing other students

Status as employee

Role 1: Warehouse: Unloading boxes, labeling products, restocking shelves

Role 2: Customer service: Answering questions, solving problems, researching information

Status as club president

Role 1: Administrative: Running club meetings, delegating tasks to club members

Role 2: Public: Distributing flyers, answering questions, planning community volunteer activities

At any given time, the individual described above can also occupy the statuses of athlete, date, confidant, or a number of others, depending on the setting. With each change of status, the individual plays a different role or roles.

Role Conflict

Role conflict results from the competing demands of two or more roles that vie for our time and energy. The more statuses we have, and the more roles we take on, the more likely we are to experience role conflict.

A member of a nonindustrialized society generally has just a few statuses, such as spouse, parent, and villager. A typical middle-class American woman, meanwhile, probably has many statuses, and therefore many roles. She may be a mother, wife, neighbor, member of the PTA, employee, boss, town council president, and part-time student. Because people in modernized societies have so many roles, they are more likely than people in nonindustrialized societies to experience role conflict.

Example: A working father is expected at work 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 status dictates that he care for his sick child, while a role for his employee status demands that he arrive at work on time.

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