Mores vs Folkways: Similarities and Differences

Mores vs Folkways: Similarities and DifferencesReviewed 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.

mores vs foklways definitions and differences

Mores and folkways are both informal social norms. The main difference between them is that mores are considered moral norms, while folkways are considered social etiquette.

  • Folkways are informal social rules that are expected to be followed, but violating them does not result in punishment because they lack a moral component.
  • Mores are also informal rules that are not written down, but violating them can lead to punishment and social exclusion because it’s considered immoral to violate them.

William Graham Sumner, a sociologist from the United States, introduced the terms “mores” (Macionis & Gerber, 2010, p. 65) and “folkways” (Sumner, 1979) to modern sociology.

Definition of Mores

Mores are also known as moral norms or values. They are rules or standards of behavior that are considered important in a particular culture or society.

They’re more seriously adhered to than most other norms because of the moral component.

Mores are often unwritten and are passed down from generation to generation through socialization and cultural traditions.

They often dictate what is considered right or wrong, good or bad, and acceptable or unacceptable behavior within a society. 

Mores are typically enforced through social sanctions, such as approval or disapproval, and can vary significantly from one culture to another.

They are an important aspect of culture and play a significant role in shaping the behavior of individuals within a society.

Definition of Folkways

Folkways are informal norms that regulate social behavior within a culture or society. They are based on the routine and repetition of everyday actions and are usually unconscious. 

Folkways are transmitted through imitation, oral tradition, or observation and encompass the material, spiritual, and verbal aspects of culture (Black, 1995).

These norms are not as strictly enforced as mores, and violating them does not typically result in severe punishment or social ostracism. 

Folkways are used to maintain social order and cohesion within a group. They can vary significantly from one culture to another and are an important aspect of a culture’s shared values and beliefs.

Learn about other social norms out our other study guides, including: all about taboos and all about the four types of norms

Similarities Between Mores and Folkways

  • They’re both informal: Both are informal norms regulating social behavior within a culture or society.
  • They’re both passed down through socialization: Both are passed down from generation to generation through socialization and cultural traditions.
  • They’re cultural context-dependant: Both can vary significantly from one culture to another.
  • They create stability in a culture: Both play a role in maintaining cultural and social order.

Differences Between Mores and Folkways

  • Mores are stricter and more important than folkways: Mores are seen as more important and more strictly enforced than folkways. Violating mores can result in severe punishment or social ostracism while violating folkways is generally less serious.
  • Mores are moral norms: Mores are norms that are considered morally right or wrong, good or bad, within a culture or society. Folkways, on the other hand, are not necessarily tied to moral values.
  • Mores are more deeply ingrained: Mores are more deeply ingrained in a culture and are often seen as more fundamental to a society’s values and beliefs. Folkways, on the other hand, are more flexible and may change over time.
  • Mores are more likely to be conscious: Mores are often more conscious and deliberate, as people are more aware of the importance and consequences of violating them. Folkways, on the other hand, are usually unconscious and may be followed without much thought.
  • Mores are more likely to be culturally universal: Mores are often more universal and may be found in many different cultures, while folkways are more specific to a particular culture or group.

Examples of Folkways and Mores

Examples of mores include:

  • Lying: Mores typically prohibit lying, as it is considered a serious personality flaw. It is perceived to be a breach of honesty and trust.
  • Cheating: Mores typically prohibit cheating, as it is seen as a deceitful breach of trust.
  • Causing harm: Mores also tend to prohibit causing harm to others, as it goes against universal cultural values of compassion and empathy.
  • Marriage beliefs: Mores around marriage can vary significantly depending on the culture. In some cultures, it is a more to marry within one’s own religion or social group, while in others interracial or interfaith marriages are more accepted.
  • Gossip: Mores typically prohibit gossip, as it is seen as harmful and potentially damaging to others.
  • Slander: Mores also prohibit slander, which is the act of making false or malicious statements about someone with the intent to harm their reputation. This often also reaches the level of an actual formal law, especially in business contexts.
  • Jealousy: Mores may vary in terms of how they view jealousy. In some cultures, jealousy may be seen as a normal emotion, while in others it is considered inappropriate or unhealthy.
  • Disgracing or disrespecting parents: In many cultures, it is a more to show respect and honor to one’s parents. Disgracing or disrespecting them may be considered a serious violation of moral norms.
  • Refusal to attend a funeral: In many cultures, it is a more to attend the funeral of a loved one or close family member as a sign of respect and support. Refusing to attend may be seen as a breach of this norm.
  • Politically incorrect humor: Mores around what is considered acceptable or inappropriate humor can vary significantly. In some cases, certain types of humor may be considered mores, such as humor that is considered racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive.
  • Sports cheating: Mores around sportsmanship may prohibit cheating in sports.
  • Vandalism: Mores typically prohibit vandalism, as it involves the destruction of property and goes against the value of respect for the property of others.
  • Leaving trash: In many cultures, it is a more to properly dispose of trash and not litter.
  • Bribery: Mores around corruption typically prohibit bribery, which is the act of offering or accepting payment or other incentives in exchange for a favor or advantage.
  • Corruption: Mores around corruption also typically prohibit corruption in general, which is the abuse of power or position for personal gain.
  • Saving face: In some East Asian cultures, it is a more to “save face,” or avoid actions that may cause embarrassment or shame to oneself or others.
  • Respecting your elders: In many cultures, it is a more to show respect to one’s elders and authority figures.
  • Religious prescriptions: Mores may also include specific religious prescriptions, such as prohibitions on certain behaviors or requirements to follow certain rituals or practices.
  • Fiduciary responsibility: Mores may also include a sense of fiduciary responsibility, or the obligation to act in the best interests of others.

Examples of folkways include:

  • Acceptable dress: Folkways around dress codes dictate what is considered appropriate or inappropriate clothing for different occasions or settings.
  • Manners: Folkways around manners dictate what is considered polite or impolite behavior, such as saying “please” and “thank you,” using proper table manners, or not interrupting others while they are speaking.
  • Body language: Folkways around body language dictate what is considered appropriate or inappropriate nonverbal communication, such as eye contact, facial expressions, or gestures.
  • Level of privacy: Folkways around privacy may dictate how much personal information is shared with others, or how much physical distance is maintained in different situations.
  • Working hours and five-day work week: Folkways around work hours may dictate when people are expected to work and how long they are expected to work, such as the common expectation of a five-day work week.
  • Actions and behaviors in public places: Folkways around behavior in public places may dictate how people are expected to behave in different settings, such as schools, universities, businesses, or religious institutions.
  • Ceremonial situations: Folkways around ceremonial situations may dictate how people are expected to behave during special occasions or rituals, such as weddings or religious ceremonies.
  • Rituals: Folkways may also include specific types of rituals or practices that are followed in certain situations, such as saying grace before a meal or lighting candles in a religious ceremony.
  • Customary services: Folkways around customary services may dictate how people are expected to behave during services, such as standing during the national anthem or remaining quiet during a religious service.
  • Keeping personal space: Folkways around personal space may dictate how much physical distance is maintained between people in different situations, such as during conversations or in crowded public places.

Conclusion

Both mores and folkways are informal social norms, and both were introduced into modern sociology by Wiliam Graham Sumner. There are many similarities and many differences between the two concepts.

Mores are strict and are tied to conceptions of right and wrong. Folkways are less imposing and far more flexible. Each of these is an important regulator of social behavior within a given culture. 

References

Black, H. C. (1995). A Law Dictionary Containing Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern … The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.

Macionis, J. J., & Gerber, L. M. (2010). Sociology. Pearson Education Canada.

Sumner, W. G. (1979). Folkways. New York : Arno Press.

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.

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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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