“Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating.”
As a child, maybe your role model was one of your parents or grandparents. Maybe you wanted to be like a famous football player, a singer, one of the Disney princesses or maybe you imagined being just like your teacher or the fireman living next door. No matter who your childhood hero was and why you admired him or her, you certainly always dreamed of being just like them.
The Motivational Theory of Role Modeling
That having a role model one admires and aspires to be like is not just something for children but instead, should be examined from a behavioral economics point of view becomes clear when employing the ‘Motivational Theory of Role Modeling’ according to Morgenroth et al. (Morgenroth et al., 2015). The concept postulates that the more similar a person potentially becoming a role model for somebody else is to the role aspirant, the more likely he or she is to serve as a role model to said role aspirant. This likelihood is further increased should the potential role model belong to the same group(s) as the role aspirant. Shared group memberships could be the same religious or cultural background or, as explored a little further in this article, gender. Thinking of your personal childhood hero again, did it matter for you whether there were any similarities between you and them? Was it easier for you to identify with the person when he or she was for instance from your neighborhood or female/male, just like you? Shared traits probably made it more plausible for you that one day, you would indeed achieve your dream and be like them.
A role model’s role
Apart from what makes it more likely to identify with people and deem them fit to be a role model, why is a role model’s behavior actually desirable or, in other words, what is the crucial “role” a role model is supposed to play (pun intended)?
A look at the literature shows that role models can indeed influence other people or even the whole society to the better (Bandura, 1977; Hurd et al., 2011). As I have Arab roots myself, it has always been of interest to me, sometimes surprising and even sad to see how women are (not) included into the public space in Arab societies, why the development still lacks behind and what potential there is. Incorporating women into public life and encouraging their civic engagement is not only crucial to empower the females as such, as women’s interests are best represented by themselves but also, in line with SDG5, increases well-being for the whole society. “Inequalities in political involvement undermined the quality of deliberation, representation, and legitimacy in the democratic process.” (Kittilson, 2016: 1) underlines the importance of the issue. Having spent some time in Morocco and also having conducted research on the situation of females in Morocco, I also found it quite interesting to look into the concept of role models and the potential they hold in the context of female empowerment in Morocco. Although the North-African kingdom has put some effort into the issue, e.g. by introducing a 10% gender quota system into the Moroccan parliament in 2002, the way to equal participation and engagement is still long (Sater, 2007; Darhour and Dahlerup, 2013). Nonetheless, the currently 20.5% of female parliamentarians in Morocco could act as potential role models to young Moroccan women, encouraging them to be civically engaged (Morton, 2018). And as Plan International so adequately put it: “One of the most effective ways to empower girls and young women is to enable them to have a voice. When they actively participate in social and political life, they become drivers for change in their own lives and in their communities.” (Plan International Germany e.V., 2018).
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191–215. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191.
Hurd, N., Wittrup, A. & Zimmermann, M. (2011). Role Models in Adolescent Development. Core competencies. 2399-2404. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-1695-2_230.
Kittilson, M. C. (2016). Gender and Political Behavior. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.
Morgenroth, T., Ryan, M. K., & Peters, K. (2015). The Motivational Theory of Role Modeling: How Role Models Influence Role Aspirants’ Goals. Review of General Psychology, 19(4). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000059.
Morton, L. (2018). Women in Parliament: A Study of Issue-Specific Female Coalition Building in Morocco. Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection.
Plan International Germany e.V. (2018). Girls Report 2018. Strengthening political participation of girls and young women. Hamburg.
Sater, J. N. (2007). Changing Politics from Below? Women Parliamentarians in Morocco. Democratization, 14(4), 723-742.