10 Anticipatory Socialization Examples (And Easy Explanation)

anticipatory socialization definition and examples

Anticipatory socialization is a term introduced by sociologist Robert K. Merton in 1949 to define a process that facilitates individuals’ voluntary wish to join a group or the acquisition of a person’s new role.

Robert K. Merton defined anticipatory socialization as part of a study of the US Army, which found that privates who copied the attitudes and behaviors of officers had more chances to be promoted than those who did not.

In anticipatory socialization, individuals learn the characteristics, such as attitudes and values, of the role they are about to enter. This makes the transition and adjustment into new roles easier.

Contrary to resocialization, which is imposed upon an individual by a group, anticipatory socialization comes from an individual’s desire to join a group or enter a new role.

Anticipatory Socialization Definition

Anticipatory Socialization can be defined as the:

“Adoption of attitudes and values of a group to which one does not belong, serving the twin functions of facilitating a move into that group and easing the process of adjustment after becoming a member of it.” (Colman, 2008)

The process of anticipatory socialization is thus twofold, as it first helps the movement of the individual into a new role and second, it facilitates the adjustment to it.

There are five sources of anticipatory socialization:

  • Family
  • educational institutions
  • media
  • peers and friends
  • part-time employment (Jablin, 2001).

The process of anticipatory socialization is facilitated by social interactions, through which people selectively acquire the values and attitudes, the interests, skills and knowledge – in short, the culture – current in the groups to which they are, or seek to become, a member”  (Merton et al, 1957)

Anticipatory socialization has two parts:

  • vocational anticipatory socialization (VOS), and
  • organizational anticipatory socialization (OAS) (Jablin, 2001).

Vocational anticipatory socialization refers to how individuals socialize, and develop a perception of the skills needed for a job, which can start in childhood. For example, a child whose father is a teacher builds and idea of the profession, supplemented by how teachers are depicted in movies.

Organizational anticipatory socialization is when trained individuals take a step towards acquiring the norms and values of their chosen career by, for example, taking part in an intern program.

Anticipatory socialization, as its name indicates, anticipates what the norms and values and the day-to-day of a new role will involve, helping individuals evaluate if the role will be right for them once they come to assume it.

Anticipatory Socialization Examples

  • An internship, for example in a news agency, gives a person an idea and feel of what it will be like working in a certain environment before embarking on a career.
  • Training to become a lawyer gives law students the rules and behaviors that they will have to put into practice once they are professionals.
  • A police officer who is about to being working the night shifts adjusts his sleeping habits several weeks before his start date.
  • Couples living together before marriage can see if they feel comfortable, if they get on in their day to day, before committing to it legally.
  • Shadowing in a profession, wether doctor, teacher or lawyer amongst others, it’s too an example of anticipatory socialization.
  • Mothers and fathers knowing the sex of their baby during pregnancy, and starting to have gendered verbal interactions with their child.
  • The process of preparing to adopt a child is also an example of anticipatory socialization.
  • Being a part of boy/girl scouts may serve as preparation for a career in the armed forces later on in life.
  • The first year of new recruits in the military, when they learn who it all functions, is an example of anticipatory socialization.
  • Retirement is also a perfect time to start an anticipatory socialization process, as it involved a life change that one needs to adjust to.

Case Studies

1. Anticipatory Socialization and retirement

Anticipatory socialization in retirement can assist easing this important life transition.

The process occurs through conversation about retirement with friends and family.

Of special benefit is talking about it with people who have already retired, who can share tips, give general advice or clarify expectations about the experience of retiring.

Anticipatory socialization in retirement increases the likelihood of other necessary planning behaviors, like setting financial and leisure goals. All this information is necessary to facilitate the retirement transition.

2. Anticipatory Socialization and Adoption

Preparing for adoption can be considered part of an anticipatory socialization process.

For example, in order to prepare to become an adoptive parent, people may hire a lawyer who specializes in adoption as a first step.

Other strategies used to adopt may be joining online forums for adoptive parents and chat with other families about their adoption experiences.

Attending meetings to learn about the adoption process, what it’s like to be adoptive parents or how to prepare for parenthood is also an example of anticipatory socialization.

Also, attending playgroups, or socializing with friends and family with children can ease the transition into being adoptive parents.

3. Anticipatory Socialization and Cohabitation

Living together before marriage, known as cohabitation, can be taken as an example of anticipatory socialization.

By sharing a home before taking the big step to get legally married, couples can know what is to come in marriage.

Cohabitation offers the opportunity to know how the day to day life is going to be: from practical organization, dealing with conflict or with financial issues.

This includes, how housework, like cleaning, cooking or food shopping, is organized. Also, cohabitation offers practice on how to resolve problems, from emotional to practical ones.

Cohabitation may not be a guarantee that a marriage will work long-term, but it helps recreate what it can be like.

4. Anticipatory Socialization and pregnant women

Nowadays, thanks to ultrasound technology and regular routine checks, pregnant women and their partners can know the sex of their unborn baby months before the birth. So it is common to know whether a girl or a boy is on the way.

Knowing the sex of the baby appears to have an impact on how women engage in communication with their fetus, as they start having gendered verbal interactions during pregnancy.

This is regarded as a form of anticipatory socialization. Women start putting into practice the behaviors associated with being either a mother of a son or mother of a daughter, interacting in gendered ways even before the birth.

5. Anticipatory socialization and nursing

Nursing is one of the many professions, like others, in which anticipatory socialization plays a role.

People who decide to become a nurse may have started the socialization process early on, through conversations with family members who are in the profession, or through media imagery.

In the nursing profession they called “clinicals” to the practical training that students undergo. During “clinicals”, under the supervision of qualified nurses, students perform nursing tasks in real health care settings. This is how they learn what the day-to-day of nursing entails.

Just like in other occupations, anticipatory socialization prepares individuals for the real job and helps them acquire the values and attitudes needed to become professionals.


Anticipatory socialization is a process that individuals voluntarily undergo in order to prepare for a new role that they want to do, or to join a new group. It involves learning about the values, norms and behaviors needed to join a new group or perform a role.

Anticipatory socialization eases the transition into a new role and also facilitates adjusting to it. There are several sources of anticipatory socialization, such as: family, educational institutions, media, peers and friends, and part-time employment.

Anticipatory socialization can start as early as childhood, known as vocational anticipatory socialization (VOS) or later in life, known as organizational anticipatory socialization (OAS).

Anticipatory socialization, is like a window into the future, and it helps individuals evaluate if the role will be right for them once they come to assume it.

Read Next: The Types of Socialization in Sociology


Barnes, M. W. (2015). Anticipatory Socialization of Pregnant Women: Learning Fetal Sex and Gendered Interactions. Sociological Perspectives, 58(2), 187–203. doi:10.1177/0731121414564883 

Colman, A. M (2008) A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Curl, A., &  Ingram, J.G. (2013). Anticipatory Socialization for Retirement: A Multilevel Dyadic Model. Clinical Gerontologist 36:375-393

Gan, I (2021). Registered Nurses’ Metamorphosed “Real Job” Experiences and Nursing Students’ Vocational Anticipatory Socialization . Communication Studies.

Jablin, F. M. (2001). Organizational entry, assimilation, and disengagement/exit. In F. M. Jablin & L. L. Putnam (Eds.), The new handbook of organizational communication: Advances in theory, research, and methods (pp. 732–818). Sage

Harvill, L M (1981). Anticipatory socialization of medical students. Academic Medicine, 56(5), 431–3.

Merton, R.K. Reader, G.G. and Kendall, P.L (1957) The Student Physician. Cambridge. Massachussets: Harvard University Press.

Yamaguchi, K. (1998). Rational-Choice Theories Of Anticipatory Socialization And Anticipatory Non-Socialization. Rationality and Society, 10(2), 163–199.

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Dr. Panades is a multifaceted sociologist with experience working in a variety of fields, from familiy relations, to teenage pregnancy, housing, women in science or social innvovation. She has worked in international, european and local projects, both in the UK and in Spain. She has an inquisitive and analytical mind and a passion for knowledge, cultural and social issues.

Rosa holds a PhD in Sociology on the topic of young fatherhood from the University of Greenwich, London.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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