Socialization Through the Life Course

Socialization Through the Life Course
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  • 0:01 Socialization
  • 2:41 Primary Socialization
  • 4:35 Secondary Socialization
  • 6:18 Adult Socialization
  • 7:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Socialization is a lifelong process. People must acquire the skills needed to function in society. They continue to acquire these skills throughout their lives. This lesson explains socialization throughout the life course.


Sally is a sophomore in high school. Her family just moved to town, so she's at a new school. She's trying to make new friends and fit in, but this school is very different from her old one. Sally is experiencing 'socialization.'

Socialization refers to the process of learning and using one's culture. Socialization prepares a person to live within human society. It means the person acquires and adjusts to the customs and norms of the society. Note that socialization is a lifelong process. It doesn't happen all at once. Though it starts in infancy, people are continuously gaining the practices and skills necessary to participate in society. They adapt to new roles and expectations.

Socialization occurs throughout childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. These categories are generally known as life course stages. A life course is the sequence of events, roles and age categories that people experience from birth until death. Life course stages are culturally defined, meaning we recognize which stage a person is in and have certain expectations based on that stage.

The life course stages are often divided into three main levels of socialization:

  • Primary socialization
  • Secondary socialization
  • Adult socialization

The life course approach studies the impact that sociological and cultural situations have on a person's development, from birth until death. The approach was developed in the 1960s as a way of analyzing socialization in each life course stage.

The life course approach examines and analyzes a person's life history to determine how certain events and situations influence that person's development. For example, sociologists use this approach to see how early events influence a person's future decisions and events. Using the life course approach, they study the connection between people and the historical, economic and cultural settings in which they lived.

Let's use a life course approach to look at the three main stages, or levels, of socialization.

Primary Socialization

Primary socialization occurs in infancy and very young childhood. This type of socialization takes place when a child first learns the behaviors, values and procedures of his or her culture. Primary socialization typically takes place before age five. It mostly takes place through the child's interaction with immediate family.

Primary socialization comes in many different forms. Things like race, ethnicity, gender, geographic location and social class affect primary socialization. This is simply because people of differing backgrounds have different values and norms. Through primary socialization, the child learns the values and norms of his or her immediate family.

For example, babies and toddlers mimic the behavior of parents. They learn to shake their heads up and down for 'yes' and back and forth for 'no.' They learn that the male parental figure is commonly called 'Daddy' and that the female is commonly referred to as 'Mommy.' But in some homes, 'Daddy' might be called 'Poppy.' If so, the child will be socialized to that norm. Babies and infants develop a sense of identity by observing and imitating the roles of others.

Note that this is a delicate stage of socialization. Traumatic events, such as abuse or neglect, can severely affect socialization. Emotional attachments can be dissuaded, and cognitive development can be stunted. Children can be set up for a path of success or defeat, based on the quality of primary socialization received.

Secondary Socialization

Next, we have secondary socialization. Secondary socialization takes place in later childhood and adolescence, when a child is influenced by non-family members. Primary and secondary socialization play the largest roles in a person's socialization, because this is when most cognitive, emotional and physical development occurs. Older children start to take cues from their peers. The peers begin to play a larger socialization role than the immediate family. Media influences also become more prevalent.

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