social structures in sociology are the relationships or interactions between groups of different people in a society.
Typically, individuals associate themselves in groups. These groups can be decided by a person’s interests, job, social status, political party, religion, and a large variety of other factors.
When these groups interact with one another, the social structure of a society is formed. Explanations of social structures are used by sociologists to understand the parts of society and see how they weave together.
Meet the Peer Reviewer: The review process onHelpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. This article was written by Gregory Paul C, a social studies educator, and peer reviewed by Dr Chris Drew. Learn more about Chris Drew here.
Sociological Definition of Social Structure
The word social structure was first introduced in 1873, by Herbert Spencer, who was an English philosopher, sociologist, anthropologist, and biologist. We generally consider him to be a functionalist sociologist.
Spencer compared the many groups in a society to the various organs in the human body. Just like organs they, “performed a specifiable function for the organism as a whole.” (Wright, 2015, p.713).
In his metaphor, society can be thought of as the human body, and organs as the social structures that carry out social functions for the larger society.
How to Study Social Structures
Today, many sociologists study social structures in societies, and they use data to understand how different societies functions.
The analysis of social structures often occurs on three levels:
- Macro analysis – looks at broad categories and systems like large populations and groups like entire countries or economic systems.
- Meso analysis – studies communities or certain groups in a society.
- Micro analysis – observes patterns and collects data from smaller groups like families, or individuals (DeCarlo, 2018).
- Nations: The nation-state is one of the formal social structures that shape how we interact as imagined communities, and shapes geopolitical structures worldwide.
- Economies: Economies act as social structures on local (i.e. industrial and commercial estates such as silicon valley), national, and international levels (i.e. the European economic zone).
- Racial Groups: Humans have, throughout history, been separated into groups based on racial traits (such as skin colour, facial features, types of hair, stature).
- Religions: Religion provides moral guidelines and laws for behavior of members of the religious groups.
- Legal System: The makeup of the bodies that make laws (politicians), enforce laws (police), and pass judgment (courts) make up a core social structure in society.
- Ethnic Groups: Ethnic groups are groups of people bound together by a common language, heritage, or culture.
- Political Parties: In democracies, political parties have functioned as social structures designed to promote social, economic, and cultural ideologies upon which a society can organize itself.
- Social Networks: These can be social groups or teams with a larger organization; all of our functions at work, school, or home can take place in a social network.
- Communities: Communities can be determined by the geography of where people live, who lives in the community, and that they are cooperating towards common goals.
- Families: Relationships within a family as well as family structure can be seen as social structures.
- Relationships: The patterns of friendships, marriage, and dating among people are micro-level social structures.
- Social Status: Formal and informal hierarchies of social status create social structures for shaping everyday social interactions (the position is often a job title).
- Social Classes: In capitalist societies, social classes emerge which become social structures. Each class develops distinct cultural, economic, and political orientations.
- Gender Stratification: Gender can be considered a social structure, where certain genders are given ascribed gender roles within a society.
- Educational Institutions: The hierarchies of educational institutions, barriers to access, cultural capital gained from attendance of an institution, and what is taught, form an educational ecosystem that shapes society.
Peer Reviewer’s Note for Students: In your essays, it would be a good idea to note that the above social structures interact with one another and affect one another. For example, moving between social classes (one social structure) is constrained by several other social structures such as educational institutions, social networks, and the economic system.
Five Key Social Structures in Sociology
Throughout history, racial identities have been used as social structures to stratify societies (often leading to discriminatory outcomes).
People cohere around racial identities both as a matter of self-identification and through ascribed statuses that they have no choice about. This can result in different treatment of groups based upon their identification. Sociologists often concern themselves with identifying how societies are stratified on racial lines.
For example, research conducted by Williams & Sternthal (2010) attempted to understand the Racial/ethnic disparities in healthcare in the United States.
They used data from African American populations, and also data according to gender, to find out why there was a difference in life expectancy between white men and women in comparison to other races within American demographics.
2. Ethnic Groups
While race and ethnicity overlap, the concepts do differ. In fact, if we look at ethnic groups within societies like Myanmar, we can see that there can be many ethnicities with shared racial origins, who mark their difference by culture and tradition.
Abramson (1976) suggests a four-point definition of ethnicity:
- Intergenerational continuity: relationships and customs that transfer from grandparents to grandchildren (p. 44). Simply put, the origin of someone’s ethnicity is based on a historic past.
- Cultural practices: ethnicity is less based on the way someone looks, and is more closely related to their cultural practices.
- Boundlessness: ethnicities are not bound by territories. For example, Irish people, Jewish people, Chinese people, or Japanese people whether in their homeland or not “represent ethnic groups in their distinctiveness abroad. The fourth point concludes that ethnicities are “symbolic”.
In short, ethnic category groups are interpreted, and seen differently, and sometimes prejudiced against depending on where in the world they are living and the social groups that surround them(pp.45-47).
One example of research conducted on an ethnicity in sociology is a study of 2nd generation Italians living in New York City. Sociologist Mariono (2016) explores each detail concerning the lives of the people in this ethnic group. The ethnic groups’ health statistics, standard of living, occupations, demographics, housing, and citizenship are some of the data collected and analyzed.
For more on the distinction between race and ethnicity, I recommend visiting our article on the topic here.
The word community is derived from two Latin words; ‘com’ and ‘munis’. When used in the English language, ‘com’ means together, while ‘munis’ means to serve. Therefore, community means to serve together (Mini Pradeep & Sathyamurthi, 2017, p.58).
However, community can mean different things to different people. Some sociologists believe that a main component of a community is a specific geographic location where people live together. While, others, like American anthropologist Robert Redfield (1989) emphasize the homogeneity of thought among a community’s members.
From referencing the opinions of a group of notable sociologists, MiniPradeep & Sathyamurthi (2017) have divided the definition of community into two categories. One definition concerns the place or neighborhood that a group of people live. An example is a a small area in a large city, or a rural town/village.
The second definition refers to the relationship of the people, and whether or not they “have the same sense of shared identity”(p. 59). For example, a community of motorcycle enthusiasts, or a community of academics in a particular field.
4. Political Parties
Political parties are groups of people with a shared worldview or goal who come together to exercise political power.
Sociologists look for explanations for why voters prefer the party that they vote. These explanations are often found in socio-structural variables such as social class, religion, urban-rural residence and region.
Maria Oskarson (2005) in a journal article regarding European society, examines the how party systems are formed, and how these origins often lead to “cleavages” in society.
She studies the connections between social positions and party preference and analyses the divisions in society as a result of these “cleavages”. This is often referred to as the Social Cleavage Model in sociology (pp. 82-86).
Sociologists categorize social relationships into primary and secondary groups.
Primary groups involve direct, personal, and intimate interactions. Additionally, primary group members share similarities such as support, love, and compassion for each other.
These could be both close friends, family members, a church group, or a crisis group where people help each other overcome grief or substance abuse. These relationships are often long lasting.
Secondary relationships are often temporary, goal-oriented, and can be impersonal. Some examples are a doctor to patient relationship, a client to lawyer relationship, or a mechanic to customer relationship.
For example, sociologists can use love in relationships to better understand society.
Benefits of Social Structures
Human beings can create social structures to more effectively organize society, achieve efficiency in the economic sphere, and work of the common good.
Indeed, humans’ capacity to create large-scale social structures that transcend immediate relationships has facilitated rapid economic growth, the spread of ideas around the world, and growing global prosperity.
Peer Reviewer’s Note: Arjun Appadurai provides an excellent explanation of the ways social structures spread around the world through his 5 scapes of globalization theory. Without strong international social structures, globalization would not have spread nearly as quickly as it did.
While social structures are natural and inevitable in societies (humans naturally form relationships), they are also a vehicle for social stratification.
For example, the emergence of a hierarchical social and economic structure based on social class (a social structure) works to prevent social mobility and facilitate wealth transfer from the poor to the wealthy.
Similarly, when society is structured according to race and ethnicity, prejudice and discrimination can emerge, which leads to social inequality.
Social structures in sociology help sociologists to better understand how society functions. They allow sociologists to analyze the interactions between different social institutions, groups, individuals, communities, and other layers of society to better understand what they have in common and how they may differ.
Researching on the macro, meso, and micro level help sociologists to understand how interactions between social structures occur. Utilizing a wide array of data collection tools and methods to accomplish their goals, sociologists then use these defined social structures to gain valuable insight into humanity.
Abramson, H. J. (1976). On the Sociology of Ethnicity and Social Change: A Model of Rootedness and Rootlessness.Economic and Social Review,8(1), 43- 69.http://www.tara.tcd.ie/bitstream/handle/2262/69096/v8n11976_3.pdf?sequ ence=1&isAllowed=y
DeCarlo, M. (2018, August 7). 6.1 Micro, meso, and macro approaches – Scientific Inquiry in Social Work. Pressbooks. https://pressbooks.pub/scientificinquiryinsocialwork/chapter/6-1-micro-meso-and-macro-approaches/
Wright, J. D. (2015).International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences(2nd ed.). Elsevier.
Mariano, J. H. 1. (2016). The Second Generation of Italians in New York City. Wentworth Press.
Mini Pradeep, K. P., & Sathyamurthi. (2017). The “Community” in “Community Social Work.”IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science,22(9), e-ISSN: 22790837.
Oskarson, M. (2005). Social Structure and Party Choice1.The European Voter, 84– 105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/0199273219.003.0004
Redfield, R. (1989). The Little Community and Peasant Society and Culture. Amsterdam University Press.
Williams, D. R., & Sternthal, M. (2010). Understanding Racial-ethnic Disparities in Health: Sociological Contributions.Journal of Health and Social Behavior,51(1_suppl),S15–S27.https://doi.org/10.1177/002214651038383
Gregory Paul C. (MA)
Gregory Paul C. is a licensed social studies educator, and has been teaching the social sciences in some capacity for 13 years. He currently works at university in an international liberal arts department teaching cross-cultural studies in the Chuugoku Region of Japan. Additionally, he manages semester study abroad programs for Japanese students, and prepares them for the challenges they may face living in various countries short term.
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.
Examples of social structure include family, religion, law, economy, and class. It contrasts with "social system", which refers to the parent structure in which these various structures are embedded.What is social structure and examples? ›
Social structure is the term that is given to all of the interconnected relationships of the various social groups and institutions in which people create and become part of. These groups include but are not limited to: families, schools, religious organizations, social clubs, etc.What is the definition of social structure in sociology? ›
social structure, in sociology, the distinctive, stable arrangement of institutions whereby human beings in a society interact and live together. Social structure is often treated together with the concept of social change, which deals with the forces that change the social structure and the organization of society.How many types of social structures are there? ›
Talcott Parsons has described 4 principal types of social structure. His classifications is based on four social values – universalistic social values, particularistic social values, achieved social values and ascribed social values.What are the 7 social structures? ›
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 is social structure Sociology 12? ›
The term social structure is understood as continuing arrangement of persons in a relationship defined or controlled by various institutions and culture as socially established norms or patterns of behaviour.What are the 6 social structures? ›
The major components of social structure are statuses, roles, social networks, groups and organizations, social institutions, and society.What are examples of structures? ›
Buildings, aircraft, skeletons, anthills, beaver dams, bridges and salt domes are all examples of load-bearing structures. The results of construction are divided into buildings and non-building structures, and make up the infrastructure of a human society.What are the examples of structural? ›
- Physics. The structure of matter such as a group of atoms bonded together in a molecule.
- Biology. The arrangement of the parts of an organism. ...
- Society. ...
- Social Structures. ...
- Systems. ...
- Machines. ...
- Architecture. ...
The major components of social structure include culture, social class, social status, roles, groups, and social institutions.
Social structure refers to the pattern of social relationships in a society. Such structure regulates the interactions among members of the society, providing guidelines within the cultural norms for achieving the goals defined by cultural values. Generally, social structure maintains societal stability.What is social structure in sociology PDF? ›
Social structure refers to patternings in social relations that have. some sort of obduracy. Within this general definition, there are. two primary families of more specific approaches.Why is social structure important? ›
A. Functional Theory: Social structure is essential because it creates order and predictability in a society (Parsons, 1951). --Connects people to larger society through webbed pattern of social relationships (thus, homeless people are at a disadvantage 'cause little connections).What are the different social structure theories? ›
There are three sub types within the hierarchy of social structure theories: social disorganization theory, strain theory, and culture conflict theory.What are components of social structure? ›
Thus, we have outlined above the various components of social structure – status, role, social networks, groups and organizations, social institutions and societies.What are the 8 different forms of society? ›
The major types of societies historically have been hunting-and-gathering, horticultural, pastoral, agricultural, industrial, and postindustrial. As societies developed and grew larger, they became more unequal in terms of gender and wealth and also more competitive and even warlike with other societies.What are the 8 elements of social system? ›
The elements of social system are belief and knowledge, sentiment, goal or objective, norm, status and role, rank, power, sanction and facility.What are the 3 social structure theories? ›
There are three sub types within the hierarchy of social structure theories: social disorganization theory, strain theory, and culture conflict theory.What is social structure class 11 sociology? ›
Social structure involves four elements i.e. it is normative system, status system, sanction system and anticipated response system which functions at social relationship level organisation or group level and community level.What is structural change class 12 sociology chapter? ›
Structural change refers to the transformation in the structure of a society. This type of change includes changes in the structure of social institutions or the rules by which they are run. Structural changes are thus long term and permanent changes. For example, globalization is a structural change.
Social Structure. Refers to the typical patterns of a group, such as its usual relationships between men and women or students and teachers; the sociological significance of social structure is that it guides our behavior. Social Class. Based on income, education, and occupational prestige.What are the 5 social groups? ›
In sociology, a group refers to "any number of people with similar norms, values, and expectations who interact with one another on a regular basis." Sociologists recognize several differences between various types of groups in society. There are primary, secondary, in-groups, out-groups, and reference groups.What are the 5 social organizations? ›
- Government or State.
The school is basically a social organiza tion characterized by structure and by norms. Structure refers to the relative rankings, both formal and informal, of positions and individuals within the or ganization, and norms refer to standards for behavior within the system.What is the best definition of structure? ›
structure. 1 of 2 noun. struc·ture ˈstrək-chər. : the action of building : construction. : something constructed or arranged in a definite pattern of organization.What are structure types? ›
A structure type (or struct type) is a value type that can encapsulate data and related functionality. You use the struct keyword to define a structure type: C# Copy.What are the 2 main types of structures? ›
Forms of structure include: One-dimensional: Ropes, cables, struts, columns, beams, arches. Two-dimensional: Membranes, plates, slabs, shells, vaults, domes, synclastic, anticlastic.What are 10 examples of solid structures? ›
bricks, roof tiles or roof sheets are all solid structures. ctures in the table below as shell, frame or solid structures: a house; electricity pylon; tortoise shell; cellphone tower; human skull; brick; garden chair; spiderweb and dog kennel; wooden logs; chicken eggs and rocks.What are 10 examples of natural structures? ›
Natural Structures: Shells, trees, skeletons, nests, etc.
Natural animal structures: nests, beaver dams, termite hills, coral, wasp nests, bee, hives, tunnels made by moles, mice, rabbits, birds' eggs, tortoise shells, etc. Natural geological structures: caves, mountains, etc.
- Functional organisational structure.
- Hierarchical structure.
- Flat structure.
- Divisional structure.
- Matrix structure.
Definition. The exploration of the nature of social structures is a line of research that aims at quantitatively describing the fundamental social processes that lead to the creation, maintenance, and possibly destruction of the fundamental structural atoms that compose a society: social links and social groups.What are some examples of society? ›
Examples of societies include agrarian societies, hunting and gathering societies, and industrial societies. Agrarian societies are formed by individuals who produce and maintain agricultural products. An agrarian society can also be depicted by how a country thrives in agricultural production.What is the conclusion of social structure? ›
Social structure, for example, cannot be conceptualized adequately without some recognition of actual or potential change, just as social change, as a more or less regular process, is structured over time and is inconceivable without the notion of continuity.Does social structure affect society? ›
Acting via roles, social networks, and status, social structure can affect the health, values, occupational attainment, and sense of belonging in society. (We will also consider how some other social psychological variables are relevant influences on these.)What is the impact of social structure? ›
Social relations are also closely linked to productivity. Economic models attribute productivity to personal traits, modifiable by learning. But one's position in a social group can also be a central influence on productivity, for several reasons.What does a social structure Show? ›
Social structures refer to the patterns and relationships between and within groups. When social structures exist within a single group, they pertain to repeating behaviors. Social structures are vast and complex, but you can sub-divide and conceptualize them in many different ways.What are the 5 concepts of sociology? ›
Definitions of key terms for the five basic sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Postmodernism.What is social structure and how does it relate to crime? ›
Social structure theories suggest people's places in the socioeconomic structure influence their chances of becoming a criminal. Poor people are more likely to commit crimes because they are unable to achieve monetary or social success in any other way.What are social structure factors? ›
Social structural factors are those elements that inhibit or enhance academic achievement and attainment but are largely beyond an individual's control. Socioeconomic status is a typical example of a social structural factor.Where is the social structure? ›
Sociologists see social structure present at the "meso" level — between the macro and the micro levels — in the social networks that are organized by the social institutions and institutionalized social relationships described above.
Sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts.What is social structure in everyday life? ›
It refers to a society's framework, consisting of the various relationships between people and groups that direct and set limits on human behavior. The major components of social structure include culture, social class, social status, roles, groups, and social institutions. Social structure guides people's behaviors.What is social structure family examples? ›
For example, the institution of family organizes people into distinct social relationships and roles, including mother, father, son, daughter, husband, wife, etc., and there is typically a hierarchy to these relationships, which results in a power differential. The same goes for religion, education, law, and politics.What are structural factors in sociology examples? ›
- The structure of life. Our lives take place within certain structural and practical contexts. ...
- Choice environment. ...
- Infrastructure. ...
- Local barriers. ...
- The economic system.
The major components of social structure are statuses, roles, social networks, groups and organizations, social institutions, and society.What is the most important role of social structure? ›
A. Functional Theory: Social structure is essential because it creates order and predictability in a society (Parsons, 1951). --Connects people to larger society through webbed pattern of social relationships (thus, homeless people are at a disadvantage 'cause little connections).Why is social structure important to society? ›
Functional theorists. emphasize that social structure is essential because it creates order and predictability in a society (Parsons, 1951). Functionalism also claims that social structure is important for our human development.What are the 11 different family structures? ›
- Nuclear families.
- Single-parent families.
- Extended families.
- Childless families.
- Grandparent families.
Anthropologists classify most family organizations as matrifocal (a mother and her children), patrifocal (a father and his children), conjugal (a wife, her husband, and children, also called the nuclear family), avuncular (a man, his sister, and her children), or extended (in addition to parents and children, may ...What are the 12 types of families? ›
- Traditional nuclear family. ...
- Symmetrical family. ...
- Nuclear family with house husband or “new man” ...
- Extended family. ...
- Beanpole family. ...
- Matrifocal lone parent family. ...
- Patrifocal lone parent family. ...
- Reconstituted family.
A social structure is a stable, routine-like pattern of interaction, and a social function is any act or process that contributes to the maintenance of a social system. A social structure is a complex and interconnected machine, and a social function is any act that contributes to the maintenance of a social system.What is the impact of social structure on human Behaviour? ›
Acting via roles, social networks, and status, social structure can affect the health, values, occupational attainment, and sense of belonging in society. (We will also consider how some other social psychological variables are relevant influences on these.) II.What is a structural example? ›
Buildings, aircraft, skeletons, anthills, beaver dams, bridges and salt domes are all examples of load-bearing structures. The results of construction are divided into buildings and non-building structures, and make up the infrastructure of a human society.What are examples of structural theories? ›
The key structural theories such as functionalism, Marxism and most kinds of feminism are introduced in this A-LevelSociology revision video.What are examples of structural changes? ›
One example of such a fast-forward structural change is the shift from agriculture to manufacturing to services. Another example is the demographic transition from youthful to older populations. Both the decline in fertility and the increase in life expectancy have been notable in their speed.