What Effects Do Stereotypes Have on People & Society?

Written by timothy burns
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What Effects Do Stereotypes Have on People & Society?
Female executives often complain of a glass ceiling created by gender stereotypes. (Jason Reed/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Stereotypes have powerful influence within a society. Both those who create the stereotypes and those who suffer under them are affected, often adversely. When a society accepts a set of stereotypes, its people lose the ability to genuinely value others for the unique people they are, and the contribution different groups can make to the society. Those who suffer under the weight of a stereotype often find themselves resentful because others falsely evaluate who they are and what they are capable of.

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The Stereotyped Person

Those who encounter strongly entrenched stereotypes may feel locked into a set of expectations that they are not suited for, or that they can exceed if given the opportunity. Professional women often talk about a "glass ceiling" and how their progression up the professional ladder is blocked because of stereotypes about their gender. While an occasional person fights her way past societal stereotypes, may do not, and the stereotyped person can remain blocked in her personal, professional and financial progress.

Stereotypes Separate People

The persons or sectors of society who establish stereotypes are also harmed by the presence and power of the stereotypes. When one group looks at another and puts them into a collective bucket, they create walls between the groups. The resulting polarisation can affect the fabric of the entire society. Individuals on different sides the stereotyped divide have more difficulty working with each other, as each party retreats into his or her own well-known corner of the world.

Expectations Influence Performance Levels

Individual and collective performance levels are also hindered by stereotypes because each person has particular gifts, skills and passions. Researcher Carrie Conaway reports that if a group of people are told that they are perfectly suited for a job, they tend to excel at the position. When other test groups are told that they are substandard, or they will have difficulty at a position because they are unsuited for it, they tend to live up to that expectation. Educational researcher Joshua Aronson, with the American Psychological Society, reports that young black students who have high hopes also have consistently low performance levels. This finding supports the deleterious effects that stereotypes can have on the black student psyche.

Personal Value Versus Performance

At the core of the stereotyping message is a subtle but destructive message that personal value is based on colour, ethnic heritage, gender, etc. Each person in the society has different levels of ability, which will be reflected in his job choice. Not every person can be, or wants to be a CEO, banker, baker or policeman. Yet, each person is uniquely suited for the requirements of a specific career path. Each person is valuable, and the first few amendments of the United States Constitution were written to anchor in law that every individual has basic rights based on his personhood, not on his performance or ethnic background. When individuals aren't valued for who they are, stereotypes become the accepted measure of their value.

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