What is Secondary Socialization?

By Charlotte Nickerson, published Sept 08, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Secondary socialization is the process by which an individual learns the basic values, norms, and behaviors that are expected of them outside the main agency of the family. In modern society, schools are the main agency for secondary socialization and are associated with the learning of specific occupational skills as well as attitudes which contribute to work discipline.

Secondary socialization occurs between the individual and those people in their life with whom they have secondary relationships. A secondary relationship is one in which the individual does not have a close, personal, intimate or face-to-face relationship with the people that are responsible for the socialization process.

Secondary socialization often takes place during adolescence and adulthood, and is mainly achieved through peer groups, work colleagues and clubs or societies. Secondary socialization has been used by functionalists to describe phenomena ranging from gender roles to adult conformity.

Agents of secondary socialization who help to socialize individuals into their new roles. These can include co-workers, bosses, or other people in positions of authority. It is through secondary socialization that people learn how to function effectively in their new surroundings (Potts, 2015).

Secondary socialization helps individuals adapt to new situations and can be seen as a way of 'fine-tuning' primary socialization. It occurs throughout one's life, whenever one enters a new stage or phase (for example, starting school or a new job). It usually happens more quickly than primary socialization, due to the beneficiary's pre-existing knowledge of culture.

Why is secondary socialization important?

Secondary socialization is important because it teaches you how to interact with people who aren't emotionally close to you, which is the majority of the people we will come into contact with in our adult lives.

Agents of secondary socialization function to "Liberate the individual from a dependence upon the primary attachments and relationships formed within the family group" (Parsons, 1951).

As children get older, they learn how to act in a way that is correct for the conditions they are in. Schools demand very distinct conduct from what is required at home.

Individual teachers and peers may act vastly different from each other, and are distinctly separated from a child's family. Through secondary socialization, pupils must learn how to relate and communicate with their peers, as well as adults (Potts, 2015).

Later in life, newcomers to a workplace must also develop social skills that are particular to that job, such as learning the appropriate dress code or how to interact with customers.

Those who are in management positions often have to unlearn behaviors that were successful in the past, but no longer work in the current business climate.

Therefore, it is evident that secondary socialization is key in order for people to act correctly in the various settings they encounter throughout their lives.

Agents of Secondary Socialization

Secondary socialization can also happen indirectly. In particular, media greatly influences social norms (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005). For example, through watching television, a child may learn to crave and demand a sugary snack. Here, the indirect agent of socialization is the media.

As people age, the media continues to inundate people with messages around norms and expectations. Media can encompass anything from advertising, social networking, and television to celebrity culture, music, newspapers and magazines.

Through the mass media, people learn about material culture - like new technology, transportation, and consumer options - as well as nonmaterial culture—what is true, what is important, and what is expected. These are beliefs, values, and norms.

Through school, children learn how to work and play together, as well as follow forms of institutionalized structure and discipline that prepare them for adult life and bureaucracy (Bales & Parsons, 2014).

Sociologists have often differentiated between the latent and manifest functions of education. The latent functions of schooling are those which are resultant of the participants (i.e., the students, teachers, and administrators) of the system, even if these functions are not openly acknowledged. The manifest functions of schooling, meanwhile, are those that are immediately apparent or consciously recognized by participants.

In other words, the manifest functions of schooling are its "known" or "intended" effects, while the latent functions are its "unintended," unrecognized, or hidden effects (Potts, 2015).

Manifest functions of school include: imparting basic literacy and numeracy skills; providing social opportunities to make friends and learn how to interact with others; and awarding credentials (e.g., diplomas) that certify the successful completion of courses and confer status.

Latent functions of school, however, involve preparing children for work roles in society; providing a common social experience that brings together people from diverse backgrounds; teaching discipline and how to follow rules; and inculcating respect for authority.

Sociologists describe this aspect of school as the hidden curriculum, which consists of the things that students learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum thoughts at the school.

The hidden curriculum posits that schools indoctrinate values not only by what is taught explicitly, but what is taught by the structure of school itself.

For example, feminists have argued that this hidden curriculum maintains and reinforces patriarchy, not meritocracy (Acker, 1987). 

Schools in North America have bred a sense of competition among students by the way grades are given and how teachers evaluate them.

Students learn to rank themselves amongst their peers with grades (Bowles & Gintis, 1976). When children participate in a race or math contest, they learn that society has winners and losers.

If kids are required to work together on projects though, they understand the value of teamwork and cooperation. Bowles and Gintis suggest that the hidden curriculum of schools is more important than the formal curriculum because it socializes children into the unequal class structure of society.

It shapes children for a lifetime of conformity as adults. Perhaps more manifestly, schools can instill a sense of patriotism and nationalism in children. In the United States, children are taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Most school districts require classes about U.S. history and geography. These lessons prepare children to become productive citizens who will contribute to society and support the government (Bowles & Gintis, 1976).

In addition, schools can inadvertently promote racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. For instance, failing to include the contributions of women and minorities in the history curriculum can send the message that their achievements are not important (Oakes, 1990).

A peer group is a group of people who have similar interests, age, and social status. The members of a peer group interact with each other on a regular basis and share similar values and norms.

Although peer groups are usually formed spontaneously, they can also be created deliberately (e.g., through educational programs). Peer group socialization begins in the earliest years of a child's life.

On the playground, for example, older children teach younger ones the norms about taking turns or the rules of a game. Peer groups are essential to teenagers in a new way as they begin to construct their own identities and exercise autonomy. This is typically a time of parental-child tension and disobedience, as parental principles clash with those of youth peer groups.

The influence of peer groups can have both positive and negative effects on individual members. On the one hand, peer groups can provide support and encouragement during difficult times (e.g., when experiencing bullying or racism).

On the other hand, peer groups can also pressure individuals to engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking, drug use, or unprotected sex (Langton, 1967).

Examples of Secondary Socialization Through the Lifespan

One of the most significant examples of secondary socialization is the way in which gender roles are established and reinforced. Parents typically treat boys and girls differently from one another, even from a very young age.

Boys are often encouraged to be active and assertive, while girls are socialized to be more passive and nurturing. These differences are then perpetuated by other agents of socialization, such as peer groups, teachers, coaches, the media, and other institutions (Stockard, 2006).

As children get older, they learn even more about what it means to be a boy or a girl. They see that boys are expected to engage in rough-and-tumble play, while girls are discouraged from getting dirty or being too physical.

They also observe that boys are rewarded for being brave and competitive, while girls are praised for being pretty and compliant. Over time, these messages about what it means to be a boy or a girl become internalized, and children begin to behave in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes.

While some parents and educators are working to break down these barriers, gender roles continue to be a powerful force in society (Stockard, 2006).

Socialization influences attitudes that children develop toward people and things. Perhaps one of the most potent of these attitudes is toward language.

A child who grows up with their parents and peers calling immigrants and people of different races by derogatory slurs will likely continue to do so as an adult.

On the other hand, a child who is raised in a household where different languages are spoken and respected - and where people of different origins are treated with respect - is more likely to be tolerant of linguistic and racial diversity.

Schools also play a role in shaping children's attitudes towards language. For example, some schools have adopted bilingual education models, which help students to become proficient in two or more languages.

Research has shown that bilingual education can lead to more positive attitudes towards language diversity (Pavlenko, 2001). In addition to attitudes about language, socialization also affects the way that children use language.

Children learn the rules of grammar and syntax from the people around them, and they adopt the ways of speaking that are most common in their social groups.

For instance, children from lower-income families are more likely to use non-standard grammar and vocabulary, while children from higher-income families are more likely to use Standard English peppered with specialized vocabulary.

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 08). What is Secondary Socialization?. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/secondary-socialisation.html

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