Mores in Sociology: Definition & Examples

By Charlotte Nickerson, published Sept 23, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Mores (pronounced “more-rays”) are preferred and socially sanctioned ways of behaving in any given society. These are stronger forms of norms, in which more fundamental habits of behavior are involved.

Mores are the traditional customs and codes of behavior that are typically followed in a place or in a group, but are not codified by law. In other words, mores are the unwritten rules of social behavior, backed by morality (Ritzer, 2007).

The term mores was coined by the sociologist William Graham Sumner in his work Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals (1906). In this work, Sumner defined mores as "the folkways of a people which tend to enforce themselves by social approval and disapproval".

Mores arise when groups live together long enough to develop shared understandings about how members should behave. They can be based on customs (traditional ways of doing things), religion, or peer pressure.

Failure to conform to mores will result in a much stronger social response from the person or people who resent your failure to behave appropriately.

An example of a more in our society might be telling a teacher to “Bugger off” when they tell you to stop talking in class. Violations of norms are usually punished to enforce social order and preserve group cohesion.

Characteristics of Mores

  • Mores are the regulators of social life. They represent the morality and character of a group or community, and are considered to be absolutely right. By typing morality with behavior, mores strongly influence the behavior of individuals in a community.
  • These mores can reflect what is right and proper, such as not smoking in public places as well as behavior that is sanctioned and usually illegal, such as polygamy.
  • Mores are passed down from generation to generation, and while they can change over time, they tend to be very stable. In this way, mores tend to be more persistent than folkways.
  • They are usually unwritten and understood by everyone in a community. Because they are so deeply ingrained, composing the "conservative elements of a society," violating more can result in strong social disapproval (Ritzer, 2007).
  • Supporting mores are often a group's major institutions, such as religion, education, and law. Religion provides the spiritual foundation for a community's mores. Education reinforces these values and teaches them to children. And finally, the legal system ensures that mores are obeyed by making some of them into laws.
  • While mores are considered to be absolute rules, there is often some flexibility in how they are interpreted and applied. This can lead to different levels of observance among members of a community.
  • Indeed, mores can completely vary from group to group and throughout time. For example, while Eskimos often practiced female infanticide, this is completely forbidden in modern western societies (Ritzer, 2007; Freeman, 1971).

Examples of Mores

Mores are norms that are widely observed and have great moral significance. Mores include gossiping, stealing, lying, bullying, and breaking a promise.

Premarital Cohabitation and Sex

In the past, it was more common for couples to wait until they were married before living together or having sex. This was largely due to the fact that sex outside of marriage was seen as immoral, and couples who did so were often looked down upon by society.

However, attitudes have changed in recent years, and premarital cohabitation and sex are now much more socially acceptable. While there are still some people who disapprove of these activities, the social stigma surrounding them has largely disappeared in much of Europe and the United States.

This has been followed by a rise in the age of first marriage, as young people seek casual relationships during their education and early career (Reddit, 2013).

Desecration of Religious Symbols

The desecration of religious symbols is another example of a social trend that has changed over time.

In the past, this was seen as a very serious offense in almost any society, and those who did so could expect to be met with strong disapproval from both the religious community and society at large.

However, attitudes have become more relaxed in recent years, and the desecration of religious symbols is seen as a form of freedom of expression in some cases among some groups of people.

For example, in many societies in Europe in centuries past, the takeover of a new religion in a country would often lead to the destruction of the previous religion's monuments and places of worship. In this case, desecrating once sacred symbols became encouraged, if not mandatory.

Casual Attire

The way one dresses is often governed by social mores. Attire plays a key role in distinguishing social status and role.

For instance, during the Victorian era, the wealthy became accustomed to wearing restrictive garments - such as wide skirts and tight corsets - while the working-class were expected to wear more practical and loosely-fitting clothing. In recent years, however, there has been a shift towards more casual attire in many settings, often equalizing how people look across social statuses.

This is particularly true in Western societies, where jeans and t-shirts have become the norm in many workplaces and social situations.

While there are still some places where more formal dress is required, such as in certain restaurants or at weddings, the overall trend is towards greater casualization (Ritzer, 2007).

Smoking in public

Smoking has long been a contentious issue, with attitudes towards it ebbing and flowing over time. In the past, smoking was much more common and socially acceptable than it is today.

In fact, smoking in public places was often seen as a sign of sophistication and social status. However, attitudes have changed in recent years, due largely to the awareness of the health risks associated with smoking.

As a result, smoking is now banned in many public places, such as restaurants and bars. This has corresponded with a decrease in smoking rates overall, and a perception that those who smoke are dirty, unhealthy, and of lower status (Ritzer, 2007).

Funeral Wear

At most funerals, no one is wearing jeans, bright bikinis, or loud floral dresses. Even if the deceased was a teenager, almost everyone who attends a funeral is dressed formally.

The clothes one wears to a funeral sends a message of respect. It is also a way of showing that one is grief-stricken. In some cultures, it is customary for mourners to wear all black. In others, white or other colors may be worn. Funeral attire can vary depending on the culture and religion of the deceased.

For example, Orthodox Jewish funerals require mourners to dress in all white . The type of clothing worn also sends a message about the relationship between the mourner and the deceased.

For example, close family members may wear clothes that are similar to what the deceased person was buried in (Ritzer, 2007).

Dating

In some cultures, it is customary for couples to meet each other's parents before they start dating. The parents may even arrange for their child to potentially marry a suitor whom the child has not met before.

Meanwhile, in other cultures, casual dating abounds through apps creating an ideal environment for discreet relationships. There are also different expectations for how men and women should behave on a date.

In some cultures, it is expected that the man will pay for everything on a date. In others, it is considered more appropriate for the woman to pay half the cost.

Similarly, in some cultures, it is considered appropriate for the woman to be more passive and let the man take the lead. In others, it is more common for couples to share the responsibility for planning their time spent together (Reddit, 2013).

Gift Giving

In many cultures, gift giving is an important part of social interactions. Gifts are often given to mark special occasions or to show appreciation. The act of receiving gifts in itself is embedded in mores.

Some cultures may require that the recipient write a thank you card, and others, that the recipient refrain from opening the gift until after the giver has left. Similarly, the value of a gift depends on the relationship between the giver and the receiver, as well as the cultural context.

This also applies to gift reciprocity. For instance, a boss may be allowed to give his employee an expensive steak dinner when a simple home-cooked meal may be considered a proper act of reciprocation by the employee.

Although there are no formal laws surrounding how gifts are received and their value, the violation of these norms can result in being seen as rude and a degradation of social relationships (Befu, 1968).

What is the difference between mores and norms?

Mores are the regulator of social life while norms are expectations that govern the behavior of individuals in a community. Mores are a subset of norms, representing the morality and character of a group or community.

Generally, they are considered to be absolutely right. On the other hand, norms can involve customs and expected behaviors that are more flexible and can change over time.

They usually deal with day-to-day behavior and are not as deeply ingrained as mores. While the violation of a norm may be uncomfortable, the violation of a more is usually socially unacceptable.

What is the difference between mores and taboos?

Taboos are bans or prohibitions against certain behaviors that are considered to be unclean or immoral. They are often based on religious beliefs and usually carry a strong emotional reaction.

The violation of a taboo can result in social ostracism or even death. Mores, on the other hand, refer to the traditional customs and conventions of a particular society.

That is to say - while taboos refer to what is prohibited and morally reprehensible, mores are behaviors that are expected. While monogamous relationships were a more in 20th-century European societies - the expected behavior - polygamy was taboo (Nicolaisen, 2004).

What is the difference between mores and folkways

Folkways are informal rules and norms that are not necessarily offensive to. violate, but are nonetheless expected to be followed.

Mores, in contrast, while not officially written, can result in severe punishments and social sanctions when violated. For instance, shaking hands firmly when meeting a new person is a folkway, but not more. Not shaking someone's hands - or shaking hands too loosely - will not necessarily cause offense and will probably not lead to sanctions.

Meanwhile, not lying is more. Being considered a lier can result in severe sanctions on one's ability to communicate and gain the trust of others (Meltzer, 2005).

About the Author

Charlotte Nickerson is a member of the Class of 2024 at Harvard University. Coming from a research background in biology and archaeology, Charlotte currently studies how digital and physical space shapes human beliefs, norms, and behaviors and how this can be used to create businesses with greater social impact.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Nickerson, C. (2022, Sept 23). Mores in Sociology: Definition & Examples. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/mores-sociology-definition-examples.html

References

Befu, H. (1968). Gift-giving in a modernizing Japan. Monumenta Nipponica, 23(3/4), 445-456.

Freeman, M. M. (1971). A Social and Ecologic Analysis of Systematic Female Infanticide Among the Netsilik Eskimo 1. American Anthropologist, 73(5), 1011-1018.

Meltzer, B. N. (2005). The Decline of Folkways and Mores. In Studies in Symbolic Interaction. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Nicolaisen, W. F. (2004). Encyclopedia of Taboos. Fabula, 45(3/4), 356.

Manning, P. (2015). MORES.

Reidt, S. E. (2013). Sources: Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(2), 201-201.

Ritzer, G. (Ed.). (2007). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (Vol. 1479). New York: Blackwell Publishing.

Sumner, W. G. (1906). Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. Boston, MA: Ginn & Company.