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 occurs after the third stage of initiative versus guilt. The fourth stage occurs during childhood between the ages of six and 11.

During the stage of industry vs. inferiority, a child is learning new skills. When they productively navigate this stage, they feel useful and develop a sense of self-worth.

However, if they aren't supported in learning new skills, they may develop a sense of worthlessness or inferiority.

Overview

  • 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

Erikson's Psychosocial Stages

According to Erikson’s psychosocial 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 focuses on social and emotional factors that influence an individual's psychological growth. During each of the eight stages, a person faces a different psychosocial crisis.

In order to resolve the crisis, children and adults are tasked with mastering the developmental skills unique to that stage. Erikson theorized that mastering these skills contributes to lifelong well-being.

Failing to master these critical tasks, however, can result in social and emotional struggles that last a lifetime.

The following are all eight of Erikson's psychosocial stages:

Why Industry vs. Inferiority Matters

While many people think of economics or manufacturing when they hear the word industry, the term also applies to how an individual functions.

Industry refers to hard work. Someone who is industrious, for example, works at developing and mastering their skills to achieve something.

During stage four, a child is learning various emotional and social skills. It's important that their parents or caregivers support them as they face new challenges and make attempts to navigate these challenges on their own.

In order for a child to feel industrious, they need to feel that they are capable and competent. Without the opportunities to develop new skills, they may end up feeling inadequate or that they just don't measure up.

Social World Expands

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.

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.

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.

In other cases, kids may perceive that they are not quite as capable as the other kids, which can result in feelings of inadequacy.

Skills Are Evaluated

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.

Children become capable of performing complex tasks. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a belief in their abilities. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their abilities.

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.

Examples of Industry vs. Inferiority

The following are examples of common occurrences during childhood that would build a child's industriousness or confidence:

  • 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. In turn, she feels more confident in her ability to complete assignments.
  • Derek doesn't know anyone on his softball team, so he feels alone. But his parents encourage him, telling him it takes time to make new friends. The coach leads some "icebreaker" activities at the next practice. Derek makes friends, and he feels capable of making friends in the future.

The following scenarios illustrate how a child may be left with feelings of inferiority:

  • Jack struggles with math, but his parents don't help him with his homework. His teacher is critical of his work but does not offer any extra advice. Eventually, Jack just gives up, his grades become even worse, and he feels that he doesn't measure up to his classmates.
  • The girls in Sally's class make fun of Sally for wearing "boy clothes" and not wearing makeup. Sally feels isolated because no one validates her appearance or her choices. She starts to criticize herself more and more, as feels inferior to her schoolmates.

Impact of Industry vs. Inferiority

According to Erikson, this stage is vital in developing self-confidence. Kids who do well and are encouraged in school and other activities are more likely to develop a sense of competence and confidence.

When a child is supported during this stage, they develop a greater sense of self-esteem. Self-esteem is linked with many benefits, including:

  • Better mental health and physical health
  • Confidence in abilities
  • Higher perception of success
  • Positive self-image

Children who struggle in school and other activities, and aren't supported in developing their unique skills and abilities, may be left with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority—both of which contribute to levels of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is linked with difficulties such as:

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Encouraging Confidence

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.

Parents can help kids develop a sense of realistic competence by giving 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.

You may try the following:

  • Encourage your child to try
  • Let them know it's normal to win and lose
  • Be respectful of how your child expresses themselves
  • Offer emotional support when they fail

Building Your Confidence

If you've had childhood experiences that left you with a greater sense of inferiority than industry, there's no need to panic. There are plenty of ways to develop your self-esteem and feel more confident in your day to day life:

  • Practice mindfulness: Whether it's meditation, yoga, or even taking a walk in nature, mindfulness helps you tune into what you're feeling and thinking without judgment. Mindfulness can bring to light any negative thoughts, beliefs, or self-talk you engage in.
  • Notice triggers: Are there specific people, situations, or places that make you feel particularly inferior? Noticing triggers can help you uncover the stories you tell yourself about what you're not capable of and why.
  • Work on acceptance: It may be impossible to change your feelings of inadequacy all in one day. Understand that many people deal with these feelings.
  • Challenge yourself: Try new things, and reward yourself for putting the effort in (no matter the outcome). Challenge your old beliefs. Instead of telling yourself "I should've done better," or "I'm so stupid," remind yourself, "I'm brave," and "I'm proud of myself for trying."
  • Talk to a professional: A mental health professional, such as a therapist, may help you in reframing your belief that you're inferior or unworthy. A therapist may work with you to uncover the root causes of your negative beliefs, and help you establish new goals and new perspectives to help you reach them.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to note that the psychosocial theory is just that—a theory. It's not productive or accurate to think of yourself or your child as having "failed" a stage. Remember, humans are adaptable. The psychosocial stages may simply be a useful tool in understanding a child's needs at different ages, and what parents can do to encourage them.

If you feel that you didn't develop skills or feel confident as a child, it's OK. As an adult, you can still develop skills and learn to feel confident and capable.

8 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.
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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.