What Is Role Strain in Sociology?

Role strain in sociology is when a particular role a person needs to fulfill is strained due to excessive obligations or multiple demands on time, energy or available resources. An example of this is the role of a single parent who fulfills the obligations of being a breadwinner, providing child care, housekeeping, vehicle maintenance, homework assistance, wellness and other related aspects of parenting. The parent’s role is strained by the demands of fulfilling the numerous obligations adequately.

Role strain is often confused with role conflict, which is a similar term but with an important distinction. Role conflict typically indicates that there are contradictions with other separate roles that the individual occupies. This typically takes the form of opposing obligations, making it difficult to meet either obligation in a satisfactory way. An example of role conflict is when a parent is the coach of a sports team that includes the parent’s own child. The parental role can conflict with the objectivity required for a team’s coach to determine team positions or to interact with all of the team members effectively. An additional role conflict in this scenario is if the parent also has career obligations that infringe on the time committed to either role.