Types of Social Groups: Primary, Secondary and Reference Groups

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  • 0:07 Social Groups
  • 0:49 Primary Groups
  • 2:36 Secondary Groups
  • 4:10 Reference Groups
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
The study of social groups is a main focus of many sociologists. In this lesson, we define social groups and differentiate between several different types including primary, secondary, and reference groups.

Social Groups

Social groups are everywhere and are a basic part of human life; everywhere you look there seems to be groups of people! A main focus of sociology is the study of these social groups. A social group consists of two or more people who regularly interact and share a sense of unity and common identity. In other words, it's a group of people who see each other frequently and consider themselves a part of the group. Except in rare cases, we all typically belong to many different types of social groups. For example, you could be a member of a sports team, club, church group, college class, workplace, and more.

Primary Groups

No two groups are created equal. Each typically has its own purpose, culture, norms, etc. Sociologists differentiate between several different types of social groups. In this lesson, we'll discuss primary groups, secondary groups, and reference groups. Primary groups are those that are close-knit. They are typically small scale, include intimate relationships, and are usually long lasting. The members of primary groups feel a strong personal identity with the group.

The nuclear family is an example of a primary social group
Nuclear Family Illustration
nuclear family

Although the nuclear family is considered the ideal primary group by some sociologists, it is not the only example. Many people are also a member of a group of close friends. This group is usually small, and the relationships are still close-knit and enduring, so it is also a primary group. The term 'primary' is used with these groups because they are the primary source of relationships and socialization. The relationships in our primary groups give us love, security, and companionship. We also learn values and norms from our family and friends that stay with us for most, if not all, of our lives.

Secondary Groups

Secondary groups are another type of social group. They have the opposite characteristics of primary groups. They can be small or large and are mostly impersonal and usually short term. These groups are typically found at work and school. An example of a secondary group is a committee organized to plan a holiday party at work. Members of the committee meet infrequently and for only a short period of time. Although group members may have some similar interests, the purpose of the group is about the task instead of the relationships. Sometimes, secondary groups become pretty informal, and the members get to know each other fairly well. Even so, their friendships exist in a limited context; they won't necessarily remain close beyond the holiday party.

A classroom project group is an example of a secondary social group
Classroom Social Group

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