Industry vs. Inferiority in Psychosocial Development

Stage Four of Psychosocial Development

Industry versus inferiority
Industry versus inferiority is the fourth stage of psychosocial development. Kolett / Getty Images

Industry versus inferiority is the fourth stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. The stage occurs during childhood between the ages of six and eleven.

According to Erikson’s stage 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 face a crisis. In order to resolve this crisis, children and adults are faced with mastering the developmental task primary to that stage.

If this skill is successfully achieved, it leads to an ability that contributes to lifelong well-being. Failing to master these critical tasks, however, can result in social and emotional struggles that last a lifetime.

A quick summary of this stage:

  • Psychosocial Conflict: Industry versus Inferiority
  • Major Question: "How can I be good?"
  • Basic Virtue: Competence
  • Important Event(s): School

The Social World Expands

School and social interaction play an important role during this time of a child’s life. 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.

Schoolwork Helps Build Competency

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 skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers or peers will doubt their ability to be successful.

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.

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 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.

An Example of Industry versus Inferiority

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 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 do to about the situation. Eventually, he just gives up, and his grades become even worse.

While both children struggle 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, lacks 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.


Erikson, E.H. (1968). Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.

Erikson, E.H. (1963). Childhood and Society. (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.

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