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Types of Society

Reed Hepler, Yolanda Williams, Lesley Chapel
  • Author
    Reed Hepler

    Reed Hepler received an M.L.I.S. from IUPUI, with emphases in Digital Curation and Archives Management. He received a Bachelor’s in History from USU, with minors in Religious Studies and Anthropology. He also earned a Certificate in Museum Studies. He has worked in museums, libraries, archives, and historical sites for the past four years.

  • Instructor
    Yolanda Williams

    Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

  • Expert Contributor
    Lesley Chapel

    Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Learn all about society. Understand the definition of society, learn the different types of society and their characteristics, and see examples of societies. Updated: 02/18/2022

Table of Contents


What is a Society?

The definition of ''society'' comes from sociology. A society is a group of people who live together in order to assist each other in living life and improving their circumstances. There are varying levels of cohesion and many different elements in different types of societies.

There are three types of society (early, developing, and advanced) throughout the world, and each of these has two forms.

The two forms of society that have been classified as being ''early'' are hunter-gatherer societies and pastoral societies. These societies did not have firm ties to specific geographical areas, and they were mostly concerned with providing for their immediate and extended families.

Developing societies include horticultural or agricultural societies, in which individuals grew or maintained crops to provide food and other resources for larger groups of people than their families.

Advanced societies are industrial and post-industrial societies in which technology and manufacturing for large groups of people are the most important aspects regarding economics. Each of these forms of society has economic, political, social, and cultural aspects that are positive and negative.

While there are many different characteristics of the various forms and types of societies, and while their immediate purposes and priorities are distinct, they all have one common goal: the survival of the individuals. As communities become more organized and developed, another major priority is created: the improvement of the quality of life of individuals who live in that society.

The common elements of all societies, regardless of their type or form, include:

  • Multiple individuals
  • An agreement to live together
  • Mutual dependence on the actions of other individuals for some aspect of life.

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  • 0:02 The Six Types of Societies
  • 0:40 Earliest Societies
  • 2:19 Developing Societies
  • 3:46 Advanced Societies
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Types of Society

There are many different types of society. The three main types are early societies, developing societies, and advanced societies.

Early societies mostly focused on the cultivation of resources that were readily available to them through hunting and gathering and taking care of domesticated animals. As far as gaining resources was concerned, early societies used those that they could access through walking or using basic tools. Developing societies created systems of creating and harvesting resources through horticulture and agriculture. The primary products of these systems were needs such as food and shelter. In advanced societies, the major products of manufacturing and industry were wants such as technology and advanced communication. Also, advanced societies shifted from focusing on physical goods to spreading ideas. As a result, advanced societies have experienced breakthroughs in scientific research.

Earliest Societies

The first type of the different types of society is early society. The two major forms of society in this category are hunter-gatherer societies and pastoral societies.

Hunter-gatherer societies were the first form of society to exist. Individuals who lived in hunter-gatherer societies hunted animals that surrounded them in their natural environment and gathered plants that had already existed. Hunting included such activities as trapping and fishing.

Pastoral societies began around twelve thousand years ago. They domesticated animals and began raising them for food and menial labor purposes.

The main characteristics of hunter-gatherer societies are:

  • Relative isolation of families and individuals, and small community sizes
  • Subsistence based on easily-available resources such as plants and animals in the surrounding environment
  • Nomadic lifestyle
  • Division of labor based on the sex of the individual (men hunted and women gathered)

The main characteristics of pastoral societies include:

  • Domestication and raising of animals
  • Increase in the specialization of duties, as different individuals would raise and domesticate different animals
  • Less frequent need for moving from place to place

Developing Societies

The second of the different types of society is a developing society. In this category are horticultural societies and agricultural societies. Individuals in these societies raised plants and animals expressly for the purposes of using them for food or other purposes.

Horticultural societies were created between ten and twelve thousand years ago in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. Horticulture refers to the raising of plants to reap the benefits of their individual properties. In fact, the entire society was essentially built around the life cycle of plants and how easily they could be cultivated.

Agriculture resulted in the creation of towns and specialized work. This illustration shows innovations that aided in the speed of agricultural work.

Agricultural societies, such as the one depicted in this Islamic illustration found in Spain, developed systems for growing and harvesting crops.

Agricultural societies arose around eight and a half thousand years ago during the time period known as the ''Agricultural Revolution.'' Agriculture refers to raising plants primarily in order to use them for food.

These products could be used to benefit the individuals and their families, the food and medicinal products could also be given to others in society. Individuals could also begin to specialize in certain food or medicine products. For example, one family could focus on growing squash, while another could grow corn.

The main characteristics of agriculture societies are:

  • Use of animals for labor, such as pulling plows
  • Development of towns, followed by the development of cities
  • Initiation of trade, as regions that produced certain types of food would
  • Increased specialization, including the development of jobs other than those that were related to food production
  • Virtual cessation of the need to move from place to place, as there was essentially a constant source of food through local production as well as trade

Advanced Societies

This railroad aided in transportation of individuals and shipping of goods. As transportation was made easier and far-reaching, demand for industrial goods also rose.

Black and white image. Industrial societies developed such inventions as the railroad.

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Types of Societies in Sociology - Writing Prompts

Outline Prompt 1:

Create an outline that lists and describes the six types of societies in sociology.

Example: Begin your first heading with Roman numeral I, Earliest Societies. Under Earliest Societies, you list Hunting and Gathering Societies and Pastoral Societies. For Roman number II, you would have Developing Societies. Under Developing Societies, you have Horticultural Societies and Agricultural (Agrarian) Societies. Finally, for Roman number III, you have Advanced Societies. In that category, you list Industrial Societies and Post-Industrial Societies. Make sure to also include sub-sections in your outline that list the characteristics of each society (for instance, working from home is a feature of post-industrial societies).

Study Prompt 1:

Create a set of flashcards that list all the characteristics of each society. You have one card per characteristic. Each time you draw a card, either by yourself or with a partner, state what type of society that characteristic belongs to.

Example: If you draw a card that says, "They only move when their animals can no longer graze on the land," then you know that this is a characteristic of a pastoral society.

Essay Prompt:

Write an essay that explains the effects of the Agricultural Revolution on agrarian societies. Tip: Think of how the use of animals might make farm labor more efficient and easier for humans, and the kinds of effects this may have on the society as a whole.

What is a simple definition of society?

A society is a group of people who agree to live together and work together. The most important priority to this group is the survival of the individuals in the group. As societies change, the other goals, and the tactics used to accomplish the goal of survival, also change.

What are the three types of societies?

The three types of societies are early, developing, and advanced societies. Early societies include hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies. Developing societies are horticultural and agricultural. Advanced societies are industrial and post-industrial.

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