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Social Norm vs. Social Role — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Maham Liaqat — Published on April 7, 2024
Social norms are shared expectations about behaviors in a group, while social roles are sets of behaviors expected from an individual in a specific position within a social structure.
Social Norm vs. Social Role — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Social Norm and Social Role


Key Differences

Social norms are the unwritten rules that dictate the acceptable behavior within a society or group, guiding how individuals are expected to act in various situations. They are established collectively and influence behavior broadly, encompassing a wide range of actions from manners to law adherence. Social roles, however, are more specific, relating to the expected behaviors, rights, obligations, and duties associated with particular positions or statuses in society, such as being a parent, teacher, or employee.
Social norms provide the general framework of behavior in social contexts, influencing individuals irrespective of their specific roles, whereas social roles define the particular behaviors expected from individuals in their specific societal positions. For example, while it's a social norm to be polite during conversation, a teacher's social role includes not just being polite but also educating and disciplining students.
Social norms and social roles are interconnected; social norms can influence the expectations of a social role, and individuals in certain social roles can influence the development or change of social norms. For instance, a leader or public figure can set new norms within a community or society through their actions and the roles they embody.
Adherence to social norms is motivated by the desire to be accepted and avoid social sanctions, while fulfilling a social role is often driven by a combination of personal identity with the role and external expectations. Non-conformity to social norms can result in social disapproval or ostracism, whereas failing to fulfill a social role can lead to personal and professional consequences.
Understanding the distinction between social norms and roles is crucial for analyzing social behavior and the structure of societies. While norms offer a broad guideline for behavior, roles provide a detailed blueprint for the actions of individuals in specific contexts, contributing to the complex interplay of social dynamics.

Comparison Chart


Shared expectations about behavior within a group.
Sets of behaviors expected from an individual in a specific position.


Broad, applying to many situations and contexts.
Specific, related to a particular position or status.


Guide general behavior and social interactions.
Define specific duties, rights, and behaviors.

Motivation for Adherence

Desire for acceptance, avoidance of sanctions.
Personal identity with the role, external expectations.


Being polite, dressing appropriately for occasions.
Responsibilities of a teacher, duties of a parent.

Impact on Individuals

Influence behavior irrespective of individual roles.
Tailored to the individual's position or status.

Relationship with Society

Reflect the collective attitudes and values.
Reflect the social structure and division of labor.

Consequences of Non-conformity

Social disapproval, ostracism.
Personal and professional consequences.

Compare with Definitions

Social Norm

Influence group behavior and ensure social harmony.
Waiting in line is a social norm that promotes fairness.

Social Role

Can be formal or informal within society.
A community leader’s role, though informal, can influence local decisions.

Social Norm

Enforced through social sanctions or approval.
Public disapproval is often a consequence of violating social norms.

Social Role

Subject to change as individuals move through life.
Transitioning from student to employee involves a change in social roles.

Social Norm

Vary across cultures and can change over time.
The social norm of dress codes has relaxed in many workplaces.

Social Role

Expectations tied to a specific social position.
A doctor’s role includes diagnosing and treating patients.

Social Norm

Unwritten rules that govern acceptable behavior.
It’s a social norm to shake hands when meeting someone.

Social Role

Influence individual identity and social interactions.
Being a student involves roles like attending classes and studying.

Social Norm

Essential for social order and cohesion.
Norms about traffic behavior prevent accidents and chaos on roads.

Social Role

Come with specific rights and obligations.
A police officer has the role of enforcing laws and protecting citizens.

Common Curiosities

How do social norms influence social roles?

Social norms provide the backdrop against which social roles are performed, shaping the expectations and behaviors associated with those roles.

What happens if social norms conflict with social roles?

Conflicts can lead to personal stress and require negotiation or adaptation by the individual or changes within the social structure to resolve the conflict.

Are social norms the same across cultures?

No, social norms can vary greatly between cultures, reflecting differing values, traditions, and social structures.

Can social roles exist without social norms?

Social roles are inherently linked to social norms, as norms provide the expectations that define the role within the society.

Can a person have multiple social roles?

Yes, individuals often occupy multiple roles simultaneously, such as being a parent, employee, and friend, each with its own set of expectations.

What role do social norms and roles play in social change?

They are both agents of social stability and change; as societies evolve, both norms and roles adapt to new values, technologies, and structures.

How do social norms develop?

They emerge from cultural traditions, historical events, and collective beliefs and practices, evolving over time as societies change.

How are social norms enforced?

Through social sanctions such as approval, disapproval, ostracism, or even legal penalties, depending on the norm's importance to the society.

Why are social roles important?

They help organize society by delineating duties and expectations, facilitating cooperation and predictability in social interactions.

What is the difference between social norms and social roles?

Social norms are general behavioral expectations in a society, while social roles are specific behaviors expected from individuals in certain positions.

Can an individual's social role change?

Yes, social roles can change due to personal choices, life events, or changes in the social and cultural environment.

What is the relationship between social roles and identity?

Social roles contribute to individual identity, influencing how people see themselves and are seen by others within the social structure.

How can someone learn the social norms and roles of a new culture?

Through observation, socialization, and sometimes formal education or mentorship, individuals can learn the norms and roles of a new culture.

What impact do social norms have on individual behavior?

They significantly influence behavior by guiding actions, shaping beliefs, and contributing to a sense of identity and belonging.

How can understanding social norms and roles benefit an individual?

It can enhance social navigation, improve interpersonal relationships, and facilitate adaptation to new social environments.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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