What are Cultural Norms?

Every setup, be it a business or a society needs rules to function within a limit. If there were no rules you can imagine how society would be. Everyone will be doing whatever they wish to, be it legal or illegal, and whether it is acceptable to society or not. Cultural Norms are those rules that society adheres to.

The cultural norms are grouped into two types specifically, Laws and Traits.

Laws: Laws are the rules set exclusively by the government of a country or a state or by the head of a particular area of the province. When laws are broken the maker of the law has the right to penalize or order physical punishments against the guilty as per the provisions of the same.

" Cultural norms "

Traits: Unlike laws, traits are unwritten. These are the rules that one learns by being a part of society, framed by society. Like for instance, we Indians have a habit of folding our hands and doing Namaste to greet our elders, this is not published anywhere as a rule but we have learned it from our elders, teachers, neighbors, and peers by being a built-in part of society.

These norms are a part and parcel of life that goes hand in hand from one generation to another. A cultural norm is a whole system of practices and beliefs that forms a cultural group. It sets criteria of right and wrong and directs moral behavior providing meaning to life. To cite an example, it includes things like we should not kill or harm anyone, alcohol consumption is considered bad.

The Four Types of Norms

There are four types of norms that make people aware of the behavior that is acceptable in society. These norms could vary depending on the place, time, culture, etc.

  • Folkways: The way of behavior that is prevalent in a social group and passes on from generation to generation. The folkways may not be important concerning morals but are considered vital for getting accepted in society. The customs can differ from community to community but some customs are largely accepted in society.

Example: Eating during a lecture with the permission of the professor is no wrong but chewing loudly or burping in a high volume would be against folkway.

  • Mores: Mores are the guidelines of right and wrong and they can be different for cultures and subcultures. Violating mores may be offensive for people of the culture and can also be illegal sometimes.

Example: Wearing bright and colorful clothes at a funeral would be a violation of more. It would show your disrespect towards the family suffering loss of a loved one.

  • Taboo: This is a very serious norm that is very strictly followed by cultural groups, and people get upset if someone goes against their norm. These norms are generally negative. It can even have the effect of disowning the person from the group or society who has violated the norm.

Example: A person has married 4 women and lives with their 9 children. This is unacceptable to society. Another example could be some of the African tribes following harsh rituals with are a must according to their culture.

  • Laws: As explained earlier, laws are a set of rules and regulations designed by the government and have a provision of punishments that can be physical or monetary for avoiding them, based on the severity of violence.

Example: If we talk about the above example of having more than 1 wife. It is illegal as per the law of many countries.

" Types of norms "

Importance of Cultural Norms

  • Norms provide order in the community.
  • It gives a sense of what is right and wrong
  • Cultural norms generate an understanding of the actions of each other.
  • It helps a society develop better living.
  • It helps in providing solutions for the problems we face in the community.

Does Social Norms Create Problems?

Social or cultural norms are the set of prescriptions that guides our behavior in a particular situation that is acceptable to society. As we know norms could vary from culture to culture and therefore it can be negative or positive.

Every society has a set of norms that they follow but not every norm can be followed blindly because some of these could become a reason for a problem. If you remember, racism is one of the social norms that create problems in society today. Sexism is another example of the same. So these types of norms cannot be considered relevant for the betterment of society.

Not all norms have a reason for their evolution and therefore they are found to be difficult when it comes to changing them. And the people blindly follow these norms without even thinking about its effects as it is developed by their ancestors and therefore it is to be followed without questioning. This rigidity creates problematic situations.


Cultural norms shape our views and provide direction to our behavior. It is a very important aspect of society. It provides recognition to a nation in the world as culture is something that defines us and our personality.

Undoubtedly, Norms have great importance in society but, not every set of norms can have a positive effect on society. Taboos are a type of norm that is considered to be negative as they could be harsh and even worst. Thus following every norm recklessly could even end up creating problems. 

Context and Applications:

This topic is significant in the professional exams for both undergraduate and graduate courses, especially for      

  • BBA
  • B.COM
  • M.COM

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