Role model

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For other uses, see Role Model (disambiguation).

A role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.[1] The term "role model" is credited to sociologist Robert K. Merton, who coined the phrase during his career.[2][3] Merton hypothesized that individuals compare themselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires.[4] An example being the way fans (oftentimes youth) will idolize and imitate professional athletes or entertainment artists. Although the term "role model" has been criticized as "outdated",[5] the term and its associated responsibility remains prominent in the public consciousness as a commonly used phrase, and a "powerful presence" in the entertainment industry and media.[6]

Effect on career choice[edit]

A person's chosen role models may have a considerable impact on their future choice of career. Role models show significant effects on female students' self-confidence in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields. The gender difference between role models and female students has shown to have no significant effect on student attitudes, whereas perceived dissimilarity with stereotypical role models showed a negative effect on self-confidence in pursuing STEM careers. Perceived similarity with non-stereotypical role models (of either gender) shows a positive effect on self-confidence to succeed in STEM occupations.[7]

Parent role models also significantly influence a person's "education and training aspirations, task self-efficacy, and expectancy for an entrepreneurial career".[8]

Celebrity role models[edit]

The ever-widening reach of the media in popular culture has elevated certain celebrities to worldwide acclaim. This boom of media coverage and constant exposure to these individuals resulted in a change of mindset toward celebrities in both adults and youth alike. According to a survey of teachers in the United Kingdom conducted in 2008 by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, young people most frequently chose sports stars as role models, followed by pop stars. Many, however, simply aspired to be "famous for being famous", believing that fame and fortune could be easily accessed through reality television.[9]

Community role models[edit]

Community role models are often overlooked and scarce. Teachers and parents fill this gap and are considered a central influence to a child’s upbringing and future success. Teachers, because of the large amount of time spent with children, have such a huge impact on children that they’re being advised to be likeable in order to build strong emotional relationships with children.[10] Research has shown that role models as teachers and doctors encourage people's support for tobacco ban more effectively and directly than policy promotion.[11] Some community role models like the ones in western communities are usually experts in a certain field. Whereas in other communities, like in indigenous communities, role models are often based career choice (like teachers, doctors, etc.) but by demonstrating to others how to do something for example in indigenous Mexican communities parents take their children from newborns to work. Anybody from the community has the potential to become a role model.

Indigenous community’s role models influence on children is largely effective and powerful because of the high concentration. Indigenous community’s emotional relationships are naturally developed and flourish due to the concentrated space and knowing of one another. Close relationships further gives knowledge the opportunity to be passed down from generation to generation, often preserving it. For example, in the Warao indeginous society for a member to successfully enculturate they must learn how to build canoes.[12]

Athlete role models[edit]

There is a lot of speculation and argument on whether or not athletes should be considered role models, especially to today's youth. This seems to be a consistent topic of discussion with increasing popularity whenever there is anything negative in the media about an athlete. Many think that an athlete being a role model is perfectly acceptable and there should be no need for debate, while others think otherwise. Former NBA superstar, Charles Barkley stated that he believes athletes are not the figures that children should be emulating and that it is the parent's responsibility to be role models.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Role model". Random House, Inc. 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. "Robert K. Merton, Versatile Sociologist and Father of the Focus Group, Dies at 92". New York Times (New York Times, 2003.). Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Calhoun, Craig J., (ed.) (2010). Robert K. Merton: Sociology of Science and Sociology as Science. New York: Columbia UP. ISBN 978-0-231-15112-2. 
  4. ^ Gerald Holton (4 December 2004). "Robert K. Merton - Biographical Memoirs" (PDF). Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 148 (4): 506–517. Archived from the original on 2007-08-11. Retrieved 2007-08-07. "He developed a theory of the reference group (i.e., the group to which individuals compare themselves, which is not necessarily a group to which those individuals belong), and elaborated on the concepts of in-group and out-group." 
  5. ^ Whannel, Garry (2013). Media Sport Stars: Masculinities and Moralities. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781134698714. 
  6. ^ Tomlinson, Alan (2010). A Dictionary of Sports Studies. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199213818. 
  7. ^ Published online before print April 15, 2011, doi: 10.1177/1948550611405218 Social Psychological and Personality Science November 2011 vol. 2 no. 6 656-664
  8. ^ Robert F. Scherer, et al. "Role Model Performance Effects on Development of Entrepreneurial Career Preference." Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice 13.3 (1989): 53-71.
  9. ^ "The Beckhams are the celebrities most children aspire to be, as celebrity culture increases its influence, says ATL". Association of Teachers and Lecturers. 14 March 2008. Retrieved February 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ Pierson, Rita. "Every Kid Needs A Champion". Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  11. ^ Yang, XY (2014). "Impact of role models and policy exposure on support for tobacco control policies in hangzhou, china.". American Journal of Health Behavior. 
  12. ^ Wilbert, J. (1979). To become a maker of canoes. Los Angeles, CA, USA: UCLA Latin America Center Publications. pp. 305–358. 
  13. ^ Why Do We Make Athletes Role Models? - Forbes