A Social Psychological Perspective
Chapter 7. Social Role Theory
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Social role theory (Eagly, 1987) offers a social structural account on the contents of gender stereotypes (for a more recent version, see Eagly & Wood, 2012). In other words, current social structures in a given society contribute to gender stereotypes. Specifically, the theory postulates that gender stereotypes are rooted in different social roles assigned to women and men. Traditionally, women are more frequently encountered in the role of the homemaker or in occupations similar to the domestic role (such as kindergarten teacher or nurse; see also Cejka & Eagly, 1999), whereas men typically take over the role of the breadwinner and are more often located at higher levels within the occupational hierarchy. As demonstrated by Eagly and Steffen (1984), the attributes that are perceived as typical for the role of the homemaker correspond to warmth, whereas the attributes that are perceived as typical for the role of the breadwinner correspond to assertiveness and competence.
This distribution has several consequences. First, because they are often observed in these roles, women have become associated with warmth and men with assertiveness and task competence. Second, according to social role theory, women and men adjust to their gender-typical roles by acquiring the specific skills linked to successful role performance and by adapting their social behavior to role requirements (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000). In other ← 93 | 94 → words, both observers and actors are inclined to infer traits from behavior observed in given social roles: Once a person...
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