Cultural Lag: 10 Examples & Easy Definition

Cultural Lag: 10 Examples & Easy DefinitionReviewed by Chris Drew (PhD)

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.

cultural lag examples and definition

Cultural lag refers to the idea that some aspects of culture change more slowly than others. It is a phenomenon that occurs when one part of a society (usually technological innovations) changes faster than another (culture), leading to a gap or “lag” between the two (Woodard, 1934). The term also refers to the resulting social problems caused by this lag.

For example, if technological advancements lead to significant changes in the way people work and communicate, the social norms and values related to these changes may take longer to catch up. This can result in tension or conflict as people struggle to adapt to new ways of doing things.

Examples of culture lag can include sporadic changes in cultural attitudes to gender, marriage, and environmental conservation.

Cultural Lag Definition

Cultural lag is a concept in sociology that refers to the idea that some aspects of culture change more slowly than others. It occurs when one part of a society changes faster than another, leading to a gap or “lag” between them.

Cultural lag can also occur when there are differences in the rate of change between different groups within a society. For example, if one group adopts a new technology more quickly than another group, this can lead to a gap in knowledge and understanding between the two groups.

The concept of cultural lag was first proposed by American sociologist William F. Ogburn in the 1920s. His work Social Change with Respect to Culture and Original Nature introduced the main idea (Ogburn, 1922).

He argued that technological change often occurs more quickly than social change and that this can lead to difficulties as people struggle to adapt to new ways of doing things.

Cultural lag is an important concept in sociology and anthropology, as it helps explain how societies change and adapt over time. It also highlights the importance of considering the social and cultural impacts of technological and other types of change.

Cultural Lag and Material Culture

Cultural lag literature introduced the distinction between material and non-material culture. Cultural lag can also be defined as the gap between material and non-material culture. To understand this, we need to understand the difference between the two.

Material Culture vs Non-Material Culture

  • Material culture refers to the physical objects and artifacts that are created and used by society (Aronin et al., 2018).
  • Non-material culture refers to the intangible aspects of culture (Macionis & Gerber, 2011, p. 54), such as values, beliefs, norms, and symbols.

Cultural lag can occur within both material and non-material cultures. In the case of material culture, it might refer to the slow adoption of new technologies or innovations. For example, if a new type of transportation is introduced, it might take time for people to get used to using it.

In the case of non-material culture, cultural lag might refer to the slow adoption of new ideas or values. For example, if there is a shift in societal attitudes towards a particular issue, it might take time for the new attitudes to be fully embraced and for the related social norms and values to be updated.

Cultural lag can also refer to the gap between the two. For example, when non-material culture cannot catch up with the development of material culture and vice versa.

10 Examples of Cultural Lag

  • Changes in attitudes towards gender and sexual identity: There has been a significant shift in attitudes towards gender and sexual identity in many societies in recent years, with an increased acceptance of non-binary gender identities and a greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. However, it can take time for these changes in attitudes to be fully embraced and for the related social norms and values to be updated. These changes have led to debates about the rights and protections of these groups. In this case, socioeconomic or political policies might not be as developed as non-material culture.
  • Changes in attitudes towards marriage and relationships: Attitudes towards marriage and relationships have changed significantly in many societies in recent years, with an increase in cohabitation and acceptance of non-traditional relationships. These changes have led to debates about the role of marriage in society and the legal rights of non-traditional relationships. In this case, socioeconomic or political policies might not be as developed as non-material culture.
  • Changes in education and employment: The education system and the job market are constantly evolving. It can take time for people to adapt to these changes and for the related social norms and values to catch up. For example, the rise of the gig economy has led to debates about the role of traditional employment and the importance of job security. In this case, non-material culture might be lagging behind material culture.
  • Changes in environmental attitudes: There has been a significant shift in attitudes towards the environment in many societies in recent years, with an increased awareness of the impact of human activity on the planet. It can take time for these changes in attitudes to be fully embraced and for the related social norms and values to be updated. For example, while there may be widespread support for protecting the environment, people may still engage in behaviors that are harmful to the environment, such as using single-use plastics or driving instead of using public transportation. This means that non-material culture has developed further than material culture, and the latter might be failing to catch up.
  • Changes in fashion and beauty standards: The fashion and beauty industries are constantly evolving, and it can take time for people to adapt to these changes and for the related social norms and values to catch up. For example, while there may be a shift towards more inclusive and body-positive fashion, traditional beauty standards and the objectification of the body in the media may persist.
  • Changes in food and nutrition: The food industry is constantly evolving, and it can take time for people to adapt to these changes and for the related social norms and values to catch up. For example, the rise of plant-based and vegan diets has led to debates about the ethics of animal agriculture and the environmental impact of the food industry.
  • Changes in healthcare and medicine: Advances in healthcare and medicine can lead to significant changes in the way people live and manage their health, but it can take time for people to adapt to these changes and for the related social norms and values to catch up. For example, the widespread use of telemedicine has led to debates about the role of face-to-face consultations and the privacy of electronic health records.
  • Changes in housing and urban planning: As cities and communities change, it can take time for the physical infrastructure and built environment to catch up to the changing needs and values of the people who live there. For example, while there may be a shift towards more sustainable and walkable communities, traditional attitudes towards suburban sprawl and car-centric planning may remain.
  • Changes in transportation: As new modes of transportation are introduced, it can take time for people to adapt to the new ways of getting around and for the related social norms and values to catch up. For example, while electric and self-driving vehicles may become more widespread, traditional attitudes toward car ownership and the environmental impact of transportation may persist.
  • The adoption of new technologies: New technologies often bring about significant changes in the way people live and work, but it can take time for people to adapt to these changes and for the related social norms and values to catch up. For example, the widespread adoption of the internet has changed the way people communicate and access information, but it has also led to debates about online privacy and the role of social media in society.

Conclusion

Cultural lag is the concept that some aspects of culture change more slowly than others (Ogburn, 1922; Ruggiero, 2018; Woodard, 1934). It occurs when one part of a culture changes faster than another, leading to a gap or “lag” between the two. This can result in tension or conflict as people struggle to adapt to new ways of doing things.

Cultural lag is a vital concept in sociology and anthropology, as it helps explain how societies change and adapt over time. It also highlights the importance of considering the social and cultural impacts of technological and other types of change. Understanding cultural lag can help policymakers and individuals anticipate and address the potential challenges and conflicts that may arise through cultural change.

References

Aronin, L., Hornsby, M., & Kiliańska-Przybyło, G. (2018). The Material Culture of Multilingualism. Springer International Publishing.

Macionis, J. J., & Gerber, L. M. (2011). Sociology. Pearson Education Canada.

Ogburn, W. F. (1922). Social Change with Respect to Culture and Original Nature. B.W. Huebsch, Incorporated.

Ruggiero, J. (2018). Culture, Change, and Cultural Lag: A Commentary and a Challenge. Sociology Between the Gaps: Forgotten and Neglected Topics, 3(1). https://digitalcommons.providence.edu/sbg/vol3/iss1/8

Woodard, J. W. (1934). Critical Notes on the Culture Lag Concept. Social Forces, 12(3), 388–398. https://doi.org/10.2307/2569930

Tio Gabunia is an academic writer and architect based in Tbilisi. He has studied architecture, design, and urban planning at the Georgian Technical University and the University of Lisbon. He has worked in these fields in Georgia, Portugal, and France. Most of Tio’s writings concern philosophy. Other writings include architecture, sociology, urban planning, and economics.

 | Website

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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *