Industry vs. Inferiority in Psychosocial Development

Stage Four of Psychosocial Development

Industry versus inferiority is the fourth stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, which happens after the third stage of initiative versus guilt. The stage occurs during childhood between the ages of approximately six and eleven.


  • Psychosocial Conflict: Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Major Question: "How can I be good?"
  • Basic Virtue: Competence
  • Important Event(s): School
industry vs. inferiority in psychosocial development
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Industry vs. Inferiority

According to Erikson’s theory, people progress through a series of stages as they develop and grow. Unlike many other developmental theories, Erikson’s addresses changes that occur across the entire lifespan, from birth to death.

Psychosocial theory does not focus on the obvious physical changes that occur as children grow up, but rather on the socioemotional factors that influence an individual's psychological growth. At each point in development, people cope with a psychosocial crisis. In order to resolve this crisis, children and adults are faced with mastering the developmental task primarily to that stage.

If this skill is successfully achieved, it leads to an ability that contributes to lifelong well-being. For example, achieving trust is the primary task of the very first stage of development. It is an ability that contributes to emotional health throughout life during both childhood and adulthood. Failing to master these critical tasks, however, can result in social and emotional struggles that last a lifetime.

So what exactly happens during the industry versus inferiority stage? What factors contribute to overall success at this point in development? What are some of the major events that contribute to psychosocial growth?

The Social World Expands

School and social interaction play an important role during this time of a child’s life. A child's social world expands considerably as they enter school and gain new friendships with peers. Through social interactions, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and abilities.

During the earlier stages, a child’s interactions centered primarily on caregivers, family members, and others in their immediate household. As the school years begin, the realm of social influence increases dramatically.

Friends and classmates play a role in how children progress through the industry versus inferiority stage. Through proficiency at play and schoolwork, children are able to develop a sense of competence and pride in their abilities. By feeling competent and capable, children are able to also form a strong self-concept.

During social interactions with peers, some children may discover that their abilities are better than those of their friends or that their talents are highly prized by others. This can lead to feelings of confidence. In other cases, kids may discover that they are not quite as capable as the other kids, which can result in feelings of inadequacy.

Schoolwork Helps Build Competency and Confidence

At earlier stages of development, children were largely able to engage in activities for fun and to receive praise and attention. Once school begins, actual performance and skill are evaluated. Grades and feedback from educators encourage kids to pay more attention to the actual quality of their work.

During the industry versus inferiority stage, children become capable of performing increasingly complex tasks. As a result, they strive to master new skills. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their abilities. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their ability to be successful.

Children who struggle to develop this sense of competence may emerge from this stage with feelings of failure and inferiority. This can set the stage for later problems in development. People who don't feel competent in their ability to succeed may be less likely to try new things and more likely to assume that their efforts will not measure up under scrutiny.

Events at This Stage Can Build or Undermine Self-Confidence

According to Erikson, this stage is vital in developing self-confidence. During school and other social activities, children receive praise and attention for performing various tasks such as reading, writing, drawing, and solving problems.

Kids who do well in school are more likely to develop a sense of competence and confidence. They feel good about themselves and their ability to succeed.

Children who struggle with schoolwork may have a harder time developing these feelings of sureness. Instead, they may be left with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

How Can Parents and Teachers Foster Success During the Industry vs. Inferiority Stage?

At this stage, it is important for both parents and teachers to offer support and encouragement. However, adults should be careful not to equate achievement with acceptance and love. Unconditional love and support from adults can help all children through this stage, but particularly those who may struggle with feelings of inferiority.

Children who are overpraised, on the other hand, might develop a sense of arrogance. Clearly, balance plays a major role at this point in development.

Parents can help kids develop a sense of realistic competence by avoiding excessive praise and rewards, encouraging efforts rather than outcome, and helping kids develop a growth mindset.

Even if children struggle in some areas of school, encouraging kids in areas in which they excel can help foster feelings of competence and achievement.


Perhaps the best way to visualize how the industry vs inferiority stage might impact a child is to look at an example. Imagine two children in the same 4th-grade class.

Olivia finds science lessons difficult, but her parents are willing to help her each night with her homework. She also asks the teacher for help and starts to receive encouragement and praise for her efforts.

Jack also struggles with science, but his parents are uninterested in assisting him with his nightly homework. He feels bad about the poor grades he receives on his science assignments but is not sure what to do about the situation. His teacher is critical of his work but does not offer any extra assistance or advice. Eventually, Jack just gives up, and his grades become even worse.

While both children struggled with this aspect of school, Olivia received the support and encouragement she needed to overcome these difficulties and still build a sense of mastery. Jack, however, lacked the social and emotional encouragement he needed. In this area, Olivia will likely develop a sense of industry where Jack will be left with feelings of inferiority.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to note that this is a theory. And the psychosocial theory has received some criticism. One major area of criticism stems from the idea that the exact mechanisms for resolving conflict and moving from one stage to the next are not well described. The theory fails to provide details about how an individual can move from one stage to the next. So while understanding these stages can be helpful, it's important to keep this in mind.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Research Council (US) Panel to Review the Status of Basic Research on School-Age Children. Introduction. Development During Middle Childhood: The Years From Six to Twelve.

  2. Charles ST, Carstensen LL. Social and emotional aging. Annu Rev Psychol. 2010;61:383-409. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100448

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  4. Storage D, Horne Z, Cimpian A, Leslie SJ. The Frequency of "Brilliant" and "Genius" in Teaching Evaluations Predicts the Representation of Women and African Americans across Fields. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(3):e0150194. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150194

  5. National Research Council (US) Panel to Review the Status of Basic Research on School-Age Children. Self-Understanding And Self-Regulation In Middle Childhood. Development During Middle Childhood: The Years From Six to Twelve.

  6. Portilla XA, Ballard PJ, Adler NE, Boyce WT, Obradović J. An integrative view of school functioning: transactions between self-regulation, school engagement, and teacher-child relationship quality. Child Dev. 2014;85(5):1915-31. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12259

Additional Reading
  • Anderson RE, Carter I, Lowe GR. Human Behavior in the Social Environment: A Social Systems Approach. New Brunswick: University of Chigago Press; 2009.

  • Carducci BJ. The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. Wiley-Blackwell; 2009.

  • Erikson EH. Childhood and Society. New York: Random House; 2014.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.