The changing demographics in the lives of women have brought about many positives but this social change has led to another phenomenon: role conflict. This is the result of the transformation that has swept across the role of women in society, something that began to change in the Western world over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries, particularly with the feminist movements in the early 1900s that sought social, political and economic equality.
Role conflict stems from the sex-typing of behaviors and socially constructed expectations regarding males and females. Sex typing of behaviors encourages a ‘normalization' of typical behaviors in the genders; if the majority of people who behave in a certain way are of one gender, then this become the expected or accepted behavior of that group. In most societies family and domestic obligations are still considered to be a women's domain. The man is generally viewed as the breadwinner, with work being considered as the man's primary responsibility. Much research has been undertaken into the origin of male and female roles within society and the opposing views that these roles are either predetermined biologically or stem from socialization. Some theorists suggest that roles are defined by genetic selection and biological tendencies – for example, the nurturing qualities of women as opposed to the more aggressive temperament of men.
A change in society has bred a new legitimacy for women's work and roles in the 21st century. Nuclear families have come to rely on two incomes, ergo attitudes have shifted towards a more egalitarian approach. Despite this, gender roles remain resistant to change. Role conflict may be experienced by women who seek to fulfill several demands at the same time. For example, a woman may be forced to juggle work and motherhood. As a mother, she may see her work as a central part of being able to provide for her children. However, others may see her job as incompatible with child-rearing.
Feminists argue that traditional sex roles are a result of a patriarchal society intent on keeping women subservient to men. Opposing views and contradictory messages result in conflict between those who believe the attainment of equality has been reached, when it can also be argued there is still a "glass ceiling" for women. For instance general society may still question the woman who, for example, chooses a career over having children and values her independence and success as comparable to the achievement of motherhood. Similarly, women in combative roles within the armed forces may face a degree of social stigma due to the fact that aggression is not generally attributed to their biological makeup.
The view of the traditional motherly role and its associations with nurturing and kindness may also be in contradiction with a woman's role in the workplace, where she may take on different character traits. Role conflict may also come into play as she balances the nurturing side of motherhood with the disciplinarian side of work. Many women experience feelings of guilt and inner conflict when they are chastising their offspring, which can clash with their natural urge to soothe and provide comfort.
In the 21st century, debate continues as to the role of women in society. Feminist political debate has questioned the direction of the women's movement, pointing to conflict between the original ideals of feminism and the trend in which women may devalue their femininity in order to achieve credibility in traditional male roles. Some women minimize role conflict by taking on part-time or flexible work that allows them to fulfill their domestic roles. Jobs that allow for flexible work patterns are usually found within female dominated industries such as service occupations. Married women (particularly mothers) who select traditionally ‘male' occupations are more likely to face an increase in pressing time obligations and role conflict than women who enter more traditionally ‘female' occupations. Role conflict has been associated with negative health, psychological, social, and work related issues. It can lead to raised stress levels, depression and impacts negatively on self-esteem. For women in work, a strong feeling of role confliction can correlate with job dissatisfaction, lack of commitment to the post, and job related tension.