Mores vs. Norms

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will explain the meaning of mores and norms and explaining their relationship to culture. Their application in society will be compared and contrasted by providing appropriate examples of each.

Defining Culture

Before we can examine the concept of social norms and mores, it is important to define the concept of culture. Culture is one of the things that defines the social group ones in which we're raised. It includes many different types of shared behaviors and values that are enforced through the socialization process. There are many different cultures in the world, each with their own identities. Culture is not innate; we are not born with culture. Rather, culture is learned through our interactions with those closest and similar to us.

Culture includes things like spoken language, education, social interactions, religious beliefs, music, and the arts. Together, these things provide group cohesiveness and uniqueness, and distinguish one group of people from others. Mores and norms arise out of cultural expectations and practices.

Defining Mores and Norms

Social norms and mores are culturally-specific expectations that are set to determine how someone is expected to behave in specific circumstances. All cultures have norms and mores in addition to folkways (customs for everyday behavior, such as what people should eat or how they should dress), and the more serious taboos (things cultures find unspeakable, such as incest). Some social norms and mores are globally agreed upon, while others tend to be more culturally specific. There are important differences between norms and mores, however, so let's look at each in turn.


Cultural norms are best described as standards or expectations that others place upon us. In order for a culture to continue to exist, it is important for members of that culture to adhere to norms. For example, in the United States it is customary, and therefore a norm, to greet new people we are introduced to with a handshake. It is also customary to maintain eye contact. United States culture expects us to conform to these norms when meeting others and engaging in conversation.

Many other cultures, such as some found in Asian countries, don't subscribe to these same norms. They view eye contact and shaking hands as impolite and confrontational. In both cases, these are examples of cultural norms that have endured through time and continue to be passed on from one generation to the next.

Let's look at an example of what would constitute a violation of cultural norms in the U.S.

Departing from Norms

Andy has always walked to the beat of his own drum. He doesn't conform to cultural expectations and prefers to do things his way. When Andy's aunt and uncle visit from a neighboring town, he decides he wants to treat them to dinner at a hip new restaurant everyone is talking about. They have a lovely evening and delight in some delicacies that aren't Andy's typical fare. When the check arrives at the end of their meal, it's almost 200 dollars. When Andy announces that he won't be tipping the server because he never tips, his aunt and uncle are perplexed by his behavior.

Andy broke a cultural norm in that it is expected that servers in United States restaurants are tipped according to their hospitality and service skills.

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