5.3 Agents of Socialization - Introduction to Sociology 3e | OpenStax (2023)

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Evaluate the roles of families and peer groups in socialization
  • Describe how people are socialized through institutions like schools, workplaces, and the government

Socialization helps people learn to function successfully in their social worlds. How does the process of socialization occur? How do we learn to use the objects of our society’s material culture? How do we come to adopt the beliefs, values, and norms that represent its nonmaterial culture? This learning takes place through interaction with various agents of socialization, like peer groups and families, plus both formal and informal social institutions.

Social Group Agents

Social groups often provide the first experiences of socialization. Families, and later peer groups, communicate expectations and reinforce norms. People first learn to use the tangible objects of material culture in these settings, as well as being introduced to the beliefs and values of society.


Family is the first agent of socialization. Mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, plus members of an extended family, all teach a child what he or she needs to know. For example, they show the child how to use objects (such as clothes, computers, eating utensils, books, bikes); how to relate to others (some as “family,” others as “friends,” still others as “strangers” or “teachers” or “neighbors”); and how the world works (what is “real” and what is “imagined”). As you are aware, either from your own experience as a child or from your role in helping to raise one, socialization includes teaching and learning about an unending array of objects and ideas.

Keep in mind, however, that families do not socialize children in a vacuum. Many social factors affect the way a family raises its children. For example, we can use sociological imagination to recognize that individual behaviors are affected by the historical period in which they take place. Sixty years ago, it would not have been considered especially strict for a father to hit his son with a wooden spoon or a belt if he misbehaved, but today that same action might be considered child abuse.

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Sociologists recognize that race, social class, religion, and other societal factors play an important role in socialization. For example, poor families usually emphasize obedience and conformity when raising their children, while wealthy families emphasize judgment and creativity (National Opinion Research Center 2008). This may occur because working-class parents have less education and more repetitive-task jobs for which it is helpful to be able to follow rules and conform. Wealthy parents tend to have better educations and often work in managerial positions or careers that require creative problem solving, so they teach their children behaviors that are beneficial in these positions. This means children are effectively socialized and raised to take the types of jobs their parents already have, thus reproducing the class system (Kohn 1977). Likewise, children are socialized to abide by gender norms, perceptions of race, and class-related behaviors.

In Sweden, for instance, stay-at-home fathers are an accepted part of the social landscape. A government policy provides subsidized time off work—480 days for families with newborns—with the option of the paid leave being shared between mothers and fathers. As one stay-at-home dad says, being home to take care of his baby son “is a real fatherly thing to do. I think that’s very masculine” (Associated Press 2011). Close to 90 percent of Swedish fathers use their paternity leave (about 340,000 dads); on average they take seven weeks per birth (The Economist, 2014). How do U.S. policies—and our society’s expected gender roles—compare? How will Swedish children raised this way be socialized to parental gender norms? How might that be different from parental gender norms in the United States?

5.3 Agents of Socialization - Introduction to Sociology 3e | OpenStax (1)

Figure 5.4 The socialized roles of parents and guardians vary by society. (Credit: Quaries.com/flickr)

Peer Groups

A peer group is made up of people who are similar in age and social status and who share interests. Peer group socialization begins in the earliest years, such as when kids on a playground teach younger children the norms about taking turns, the rules of a game, or how to shoot a basket. As children grow into teenagers, this process continues. Peer groups are important to adolescents in a new way, as they begin to develop an identity separate from their parents and exert independence. Additionally, peer groups provide their own opportunities for socialization since kids usually engage in different types of activities with their peers than they do with their families. Peer groups provide adolescents’ first major socialization experience outside the realm of their families. Interestingly, studies have shown that although friendships rank high in adolescents’ priorities, this is balanced by parental influence.

Institutional Agents

The social institutions of our culture also inform our socialization. Formal institutions—like schools, workplaces, and the government—teach people how to behave in and navigate these systems. Other institutions, like the media, contribute to socialization by inundating us with messages about norms and expectations.


Most U.S. children spend about seven hours a day, 180 days a year, in school, which makes it hard to deny the importance school has on their socialization (U.S. Department of Education 2004). Students are not in school only to study math, reading, science, and other subjects—the manifest function of this system. Schools also serve a latent function in society by socializing children into behaviors like practicing teamwork, following a schedule, and using textbooks.

5.3 Agents of Socialization - Introduction to Sociology 3e | OpenStax (2)

Figure 5.5 These kindergarteners aren’t just learning to read and write; they are being socialized to norms like keeping their hands to themselves, standing in line, and playing together. (Credit: woodleywonderworks/flickr)

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School and classroom rituals, led by teachers serving as role models and leaders, regularly reinforce what society expects from children. Sociologists describe this aspect of schools as the hidden curriculum, the informal teaching done by schools.

For example, in the United States, schools have built a sense of competition into the way grades are awarded and the way teachers evaluate students (Bowles and Gintis 1976). When children participate in a relay race or a math contest, they learn there are winners and losers in society. When children are required to work together on a project, they practice teamwork with other people in cooperative situations. The hidden curriculum prepares children for the adult world. Children learn how to deal with bureaucracy, rules, expectations, waiting their turn, and sitting still for hours during the day. Schools in different cultures socialize children differently in order to prepare them to function well in those cultures. The latent functions of teamwork and dealing with bureaucracy are features of U.S. culture.

Schools also socialize children by teaching them about citizenship and national pride. In the United States, children are taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Most districts require classes about U.S. history and geography. As academic understanding of history evolves, textbooks in the United States have been scrutinized and revised to update attitudes toward other cultures as well as perspectives on historical events; thus, children are socialized to a different national or world history than earlier textbooks may have done. For example, information about the mistreatment of African Americans and Native American Indians more accurately reflects those events than in textbooks of the past.

Big Picture

Controversial Textbooks

On August 13, 2001, twenty South Korean men gathered in Seoul. Each chopped off one of his own fingers because of textbooks. These men took drastic measures to protest eight middle school textbooks approved by Tokyo for use in Japanese middle schools. According to the Korean government (and other East Asian nations), the textbooks glossed over negative events in Japan’s history at the expense of other Asian countries.

In the early 1900s, Japan was one of Asia’s more aggressive nations. For instance, it held Korea as a colony between 1910 and 1945. Today, Koreans argue that the Japanese are whitewashing that colonial history through these textbooks. One major criticism is that they do not mention that, during World War II, the Japanese forced Korean women into sexual slavery. The textbooks describe the women as having been “drafted” to work, a euphemism that downplays the brutality of what actually occurred. Some Japanese textbooks dismiss an important Korean independence demonstration in 1919 as a “riot.” In reality, Japanese soldiers attacked peaceful demonstrators, leaving roughly 6,000 dead and 15,000 wounded (Crampton 2002).

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The protest affirms that textbooks are a significant tool of socialization in state-run education systems.

The Workplace

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Figure 5.6 Workplace socialization occurs informally and formally, and may include material and non-material culture (Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/flickr).

Just as children spend much of their day at school, many U.S. adults at some point invest a significant amount of time at a place of employment. Although socialized into their culture since birth, workers require new socialization into a workplace, in terms of both material culture (such as how to operate the copy machine) and nonmaterial culture (such as whether it’s okay to speak directly to the boss or how to share the refrigerator). In the chapter introduction, Noel did not fully embrace the culture of their new company. Importantly, the obligation of such socialization is not simply on the worker: Organizational behavior and other business experts place responsibility on companies; organizations must have strong onboarding and socialization programs in order to build satisfaction, productivity, and workplace retention (Cebollero 2019).

Different jobs require different types of socialization. In the past, many people worked a single job until retirement. Today, the trend is to switch jobs at least once a decade. Between the ages of eighteen and forty-six, the average Baby Boomer of the younger set held 11.3 different jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). This means that people must become socialized to, and socialized by, a variety of work environments.


While some religions are informal institutions, here we focus on practices followed by formal institutions. Religion is an important avenue of socialization for many people. The United States is full of synagogues, temples, churches, mosques, and similar religious communities where people gather to worship and learn. Like other institutions, these places teach participants how to interact with the religion’s material culture (like a mezuzah, a prayer rug, or a communion wafer). For some people, important ceremonies related to family structure—like marriage and birth—are connected to religious celebrations. Many religious institutions also uphold gender norms and contribute to their enforcement through socialization. From ceremonial rites of passage that reinforce the family unit to power dynamics that reinforce gender roles, organized religion fosters a shared set of socialized values that are passed on through society.


Although we do not think about it, many of the rites of passage people go through today are based on age norms established by the government. To be defined as an “adult” usually means being eighteen years old, the age at which a person becomes legally responsible for him- or herself. And sixty-five years old is the start of “old age” since most people become eligible for senior benefits at that point.

Each time we embark on one of these new categories—senior, adult, taxpayer—we must be socialized into our new role. Seniors must learn the ropes of Medicare, Social Security benefits, and senior shopping discounts. When U.S. males turn eighteen, they must register with the Selective Service System within thirty days to be entered into a database for possible military service. These government dictates mark the points at which we require socialization into a new category.

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Mass Media

Mass media distribute impersonal information to a wide audience, via television, newspapers, radio, and the Internet. With the average person spending over four hours a day in front of the television (and children averaging even more screen time), media greatly influences social norms (Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout 2005). People learn about objects of material culture (like new technology and transportation options), as well as nonmaterial culture—what is true (beliefs), what is important (values), and what is expected (norms).

Sociology in the Real World

Girls and Movies

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Figure 5.7 Some researchers, parents, and children's advocates are concerned about the effects of raising girls within what they call "princess culture." Many place blame on entertainment companies, such as Disney, for its portrayals of girls in its movies.

Movies aimed at young people have featured a host of girls and women leads. Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty gave way to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Mulan. In many of those cases, if the character is not a princess to begin with, she typically ends the movie by marrying a prince or, in the case of Mulan, a military general. Although not all “princesses” in Disney movies play a passive role in their lives, they typically find themselves needing to be rescued by a man, and the happy ending they all search for includes marriage.

Alongside this prevalence of princesses, many parents are expressing concern about the culture of princesses that Disney has created. Peggy Orenstein addresses this problem in her popular book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Orenstein wonders why every little girl is expected to be a “princess” and why pink has become an all-consuming obsession for many young girls. Another mother wondered what she did wrong when her three-year-old daughter refused to do “nonprincessy” things, including running and jumping. The effects of this princess culture can have negative consequences for girls throughout life. An early emphasis on beauty and can lead to reduced interest in math and science among girls, as well as avoiding educational scenarios that are "typically feminine" (Coyne 2016).

Others acknowledge these issues, but find princess movies and "princess culture" less alarming. Some remind concerned parents that children have an array of media and activities around them, and the children may be happy wearing their princess outfit while digging for worms or going to hockey practice, which run counter to feminine stereotypes (Wagner 2019). Others indicate that rather than disallowing princess movies and merchandise, engaging with the children as they enjoy them might be more effective. And many people acknowledge that girls and women are often currently portrayed differently than they were in years past.

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Disney seems to have gotten the message about the concerns. Its 2009 Tiana and the Frog was specifically billed as "a princess movie for people who don't like princess movies," and features a talented chef and business owner—who didn't need a man to rescue her—as its main character. Brave's Merida and the title character in Moana seem to go out of their way to separate themselves from traditional princesses, and undertake great acts of bravery to help others. Frozen focuses on sisterly love rather than romantic love. And though she was never meant to be a princess, Star Wars' Rey was the go-to girls Halloween costume for years after she was introduced in the movies.


What are the 5.3 agents of socialization? ›

agents of socialization: agents of socialization, or institutions that can impress social norms upon an individual, include the family, religion, peer groups, economic systems, legal systems, penal systems, language, and the media.

What are the 5 agents of socialization PDF? ›

An individual usually learns these aspects of culture and society social groups called agents of socialization. There are five main agents of socialization: family, education, peer groups, religious organization and mass media.

What are the 5 agents of socialization and enculturation? ›

The primary agents are family, schools and daycares, peers, and media. Other agents of socialization include religion and ethnicity, political groups, work, neighborhoods, social activities, and institutions.

What are the 5 main types of socialization discuss it briefly? ›

Generally, there are five types of socialization: primary, secondary, developmental, anticipatory and resocialization. This type of socialization happens when a child learns the values, norms and behaviors that should be displayed in order to live accordingly to a specific culture.

What are the 8 types of socialization? ›

  • Primary socialization.
  • Secondary socialization.
  • Anticipatory socialization.
  • Resocialization.
  • Organizational socialization.
  • Group socialization.
  • Gender socialization.
  • Racial socialization.

What are the five agents of socialization quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (5)
  • Agents of Socialization. the specific individuals, groups, and institutions that enable socialization to take place.
  • Family. The most important agent of socialization. ...
  • Peer Group. a primary group composed of individuals of roughly equal age and similar social characteristics. ...
  • School. ...
  • Mass Media.

What are the 4 factors of socialization? ›

Introduction. The influences of family, society, culture, and community are all factors to take into consideration when understanding socialization.

What are the 7 agents of political socialization? ›

Agents of socialization

Such institutions include, but are not limited to: families, media, peers, schools, religions, work and legal systems.

What are the 6 theories of socialization? ›

The six differ theories of socialization are the Psychoanalytic Theory, the Cognitive Development Theory, the Moral Development Theory, the Gender and Moral development theory, Social self-theory, and the Eight stages of Development theory.

What are 3 roles of parents as agents of socialization? ›

Parents have many roles in the socializations. They contribute to the planning, care for and interact with their own child, observe other adults care for and interact with their own children, and watch their child interact with peers.

What are your top 3 the agents of socialization? ›

Socialization occurs throughout our life, but some of the most important socialization occurs in childhood. So, let's talk about the most influential agents of socialization. These are the people or groups responsible for our socialization during childhood – including family, school, peers, and mass media.

What are the 3 stages of socialization? ›

Socialization has three major processes: the primary process of socialization, the secondary process of socialization, and the adult process of socialization.

What are the 3 theories of socialization? ›

The three major sociological theories that new students learn about are the interactionist perspective, the conflict perspective, and the functionalist perspective. And each has its own distinct way of explaining various aspects of society and the human behavior within it.

Why is socialization important 7? ›

Structural functionalists would say that socialization is essential to society, both because it trains members to operate successfully within it and because it perpetuates culture by transmitting it to new generations. Without socialization, a society's culture would perish as members died off.

What are 3 characteristics of socialization? ›

What are the characteristics of socialization?
  • To Inculcate basic discipline.
  • To Behave in an unusual way.
  • Knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study alone.
  • Characteristics and knowledge of a specific class of people.
Oct 20, 2022

What are the four types of social behavior? ›

Abstract. Social behavior characterizes the interactions that occur among individuals. These can be aggressive, mutualistic, cooperative, altruistic, and parental.

What are the 4.2 agents of socialization? ›

This section will discuss five of the most important agents of socialization: family, school, peers, the media and religion.

What are the agents of socialization explain their roles and functions? ›

Family, peer groups, mass media and school are the most influential agent of socialization in childhood . These agents play important role in the process of socialization.

What is the main agent of socialization? ›

Family is the first and most important agent of socialization. Mothers and fathers, siblings and grandparents, plus members of an extended family, all teach a child what he or she needs to know.

What are the 4 main agents of socialization quizlet? ›

Terms in this set (4)
  • Family. 1st agent, most important, primary group.
  • Peer group. People your age, not structured.
  • School. Structured, empathize on skills you will need in life.
  • Mass media. Forms of communication reach large audiences.

What are the five importance of socialization? ›

Socialization is a way of training the newborn individual in certain skills, which are required to lead a normal social life. These skills help the individual to play economic, professional, educational, religious and political roles in his latter life.

What are the different types of social agencies? ›

Types of Social Institutions
  • Community. ...
  • Community service organizations. ...
  • Schools as social institutions. ...
  • Family as a social institution. ...
  • Healthcare institutions. ...
  • Religion as a social institution. ...
  • Governments as social institutions.
Sep 5, 2022

What are the 4 sociological concepts or theories? ›

Four Major Sociological Theories. The four main theoretical perspectives are symbolic interactionism theory, social conflict theory, structural-functional theory, and feminist theory.

Which primary agents of socialization influence a person most? ›

The family is perhaps the most important agent of socialization for children. Parents' values and behavior patterns profoundly influence those of their daughters and sons.

What are the six agents of political socialization quizlet? ›

What are the 6 agents of political socialization? The Family, Schools, Mass Media, Peers, Churches and religion, Political Institutions and Leaders.

Which of the following is not a primary agent of socialization? ›

Heredity is also not the primary agent of socialization.

What are the 6 basic social institutions? ›

This unit analyzes such major social institutions as the family, education, religion, the economy and work, government, and health care.

What are the 4 stages of cognitive development? ›

Sensorimotor stage (0–2 years old) Preoperational stage (2–7 years old) Concrete operational stage (7–11 years old) Formal operational stage (11 years old through adulthood)

What are the six components of social structure? ›

The major components of social structure are statuses, roles, social networks, groups and organizations, social institutions, and society. Specific types of statuses include the ascribed status, achieved status, and master status.

What are 3 examples of socialization that occur within the family? ›

Interacting with friends and family, being told to obey rules, being rewarded for doing chores, and being taught how to behave in public places are all examples of socialization that enable a person to function within his or her culture.

How is community an agent of socialization? ›

The community is a socializing agent because it is where children learn the role expectations for adults as well as themselves. The community provides a sense of identity to individuals and helps to define what is right or wrong.

What is socialization Mead's 3 stages of socialization? ›

Sociologist George Mead believed there are three stages to the development of self: Preparatory stage. Play stage. Game stage.

What are 3 examples of sociology? ›

Examples of sociology could include studying the relationship between culture and society, examining social movements, or researching how communication affects human behavior.

What are the three components of social? ›

Answer and Explanation: The correct option is A: property, power, and prestige. As per the theory of stratification, an individual's social class is based on prestige, party, and wealth.

What are the 3 social paradigm? ›

Three paradigms have come to dominate sociological thinking because they provide useful explanations: structural functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

What are the 3 part process of socialization? ›

Socialization involves both social structure and interpersonal relations. It contains three key parts: context, content and process, and results.

What are the stages of socialization? ›

Three significant stages determine the process of socialization.
  • Primary stage of socialization.
  • Secondary stage of socialization.
  • Adult stage of socialization.
Jan 20, 2022

What are the 3 role of socialization? ›

Socialization has three primary goals: teaching impulse control and developing a conscience, preparing people to perform certain social roles, and cultivating shared sources of meaning and value. Socialization is culturally specific, but this does not mean certain cultures are better or worse than others.

WHO said main four stages of socialization? ›

According to Piaget, each stage of cognitive development involves new skills that define the limits of what can be learned. Children pass through these stages in a definite sequence, though not necessarily with the same stage or thoroughness. The first stage, from birth to about age 2, is the “sensorimotor stage”.

What are the 5 stages of life sociology? ›

Sociologists generally divide a person's life into five stages: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and dying. These stages are socially constructed, which means that different societies apply different definitions and assumptions to each stage.

What are the 5 stages of life course? ›

Life stages are the ages and stages we go through as we learn and grow, from infancy to adulthood.
Life stages
  • Prenatal/infancy. From conception through the earliest years of life or babyhood. ...
  • Early childhood. ...
  • School age. ...
  • Transition to adulthood. ...
  • Adulthood. ...
  • Aging.

What is the main process of socialization? ›

Socialization is a learning process that begins shortly after birth. Early childhood is the period of the most intense and the most crucial socialization. It is then that we acquire language and learn the fundamentals of our culture. It is also when much of our personality takes shape.

What are the 5 importance of socialization? ›

Socialization is a way of training the newborn individual in certain skills, which are required to lead a normal social life. These skills help the individual to play economic, professional, educational, religious and political roles in his latter life.

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