Just Sociology

Understanding Mores: Exploring Changing Social Attitudes and Intersecting Social Concepts

Mores are the unwritten customs and rules that govern societal behavior. They are generally seen as forces that promote social order and guide human interactions through the application of moral values.

Mores have been widely observed to be persistent and consistent throughout different periods in history. Major institutions like law, religion, and education reinforce the observance of mores to ensure social cohesion.

However, societal changes and evolving attitudes have given rise to changing mores. These changing mores continue to generate debate and controversy among scholars and society at large.

This article aims to explore various aspects of mores and examine some of the emerging changing mores in society.

Definition and Function

Mores are societal norms that dictate behavior and social interactions. They are unwritten rules that guide individual actions and provide a framework for judging the behavior of others.

They are different from laws that are written regulations enforced by the state as mores govern behavior without formal punishment or strict enforcement. Breaking mores can incur social disapproval or exclusion from a community.

This can be seen in the negative response to social media posts that violate mores, leading to individual companies or university expulsion. Mores function to guide behavior and allow individuals to navigate social interactions without explicit instruction or coercion.

Characteristics of Mores

Mores are marked by certain characteristics that distinguish them from other societal norms. These include traditional customs and unwritten rules that are passed down through generations.

There is a strong moral component to mores that gives them value and helps society regulate behavior. Social approval or disapproval is used to reinforce adherence to mores.

Mores tend to be stable, persisting across time and sustaining societies that observe them.

Supporting Mores

There are several institutions that help promote and reinforce mores. Law, religion, and education all play a critical role in supporting mores as they influence behavior and shape moral values.

Laws are used to reinforce moral values and ensure that behavior that goes against mores are punished. Religion reinforces moral values by providing guidance on how to live a moral life.

Education plays a critical role in character formation by instilling moral values into students.

Premarital Cohabitation and Sex

In recent years, there has been an increase in social acceptance of premarital cohabitation and sex. This changing attitude towards premarital cohabitation and sex is evidenced by the rise in age of first marriage in many cultures.

The emergence of dating applications has also increased the occurrence of casual sexual relationships. This shift represents a departure from traditional mores that emphasize sexual purity until marriage.

Desecration of Religious Symbols

The way society perceives religious symbols has changed in recent times. Many people no longer find religious symbols to be inviolable or sacrosanct.

Recent events indicate a significant shift in attitudes towards religious symbols. Certain platforms now carry statements that indicate increasing endorsement of anti-religious expressions.

This change in social attitudes is encouraged by several different contexts, including art, humor, and politics.

Casual Attire

There has been a shift towards casualization in many settings, including work and school environments. This shift has led many companies and organizations to revise their dress codes.

Dress codes now vary based on social status, with more liberal dressing policies for those in high-income jobs. This change in social norms represents a shift from earlier mores that emphasized a need for formal attire in all settings.

Smoking in Public

There has been a significant decrease in smoking rates in recent years, largely due to shifts in social attitudes. Smoking in public is no longer socially acceptable in many countries, and there is a general rise in the promotion of smoke-free environments.

This changing mores reflects greater awareness of the health dangers associated with smoking.

Funeral Wear

Funeral wear represents a reflection of cultural and religious customs. The way individuals dress at funerals is believed to signify respect for the dead and to show respect to the bereaved family.

Different cultures and religions have varying customs regarding funeral wear, such as the use of black clothing.


Dating practices are subject to various cultural differences, with different cultures having different expectations regarding the roles and behaviors of men and women. These differences affect the kind of gender roles that society requires within dating, and how different forms of courtship take place.

The practice of payment for dates is evidence of such varying cultural differences.

Gift Giving

Gift-giving is an essential form of social interaction that can reflect the nature of human relationships. Gifts given and received can signify various things, including appreciation, respect, and even indebtedness.

Different cultures have various gift-giving customs, including gift reciprocity based on the nature of the relationship.


Mores are essential to social cohesion and promote order in society. They are marked by traditional customs, moral values, and consistent adherence over time.

However, society’s changing attitudes have led to a shift in norms, including changing sexual attitudes and a shift towards casualization in certain settings. These changes represent the social evolution of mores over time and inspire further debate and reflection about their function and influence in society.Mores are an essential feature of social order and guide human interactions through the application of moral values.

They also help regulate behavior, preventing the breakdown of social order. However, other concepts, such as norms, taboos, and folkways, share similarities and intersect with mores within societal structures.

This article explores those intersecting features, drawing on historical examples.


Norms are generally accepted ways of behavior within societies. They are established cultural standards that dictate appropriate behavior and communication.

Norms are flexible, different from mores in that the latter is established and enforced through moral principles, while norms are more mutable and respond to ongoing changes. Mores fall within the broader category of norms but are distinguishable from the latter by their rigidity.


Taboos are extreme forms of prohibitions that center on activities which are deemed to be excessively immoral, sinful, or otherwise unacceptable within a given society.

Taboos are usually marked by strict, severe social consequences for their violation as opposed to mores’ subtler consequences.

A violation of a taboo infringes on social and moral conventions held to be sacred due to perceived contamination.

Taboos often involve the prohibition of certain types of food, incestuous relationships, cannibalism, or other behaviors that are usually considered to be depraved.


Folkways are similar to mores but differ in terms of how they are enforced.

Folkways are informal societal customs that are often upheld for the purposes of social etiquette or habit.

Unlike mores, non-adherence to folkways is unlikely to trigger social exclusion, leading to breaches of established norms or mores directly leading to a sanction. However, adherence to folkways contributes to more fluid and less tense social interactions, different from the more rigid expectations that typically characterize the observance of mores.

Origin and definition of Mores

William Graham Sumner’s “

Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals” defined the concept of mores as the collective behaviors and actions that people traditionally uphold and then enforce through social disapproval and approval. Sumner emphasized mores’ role as an essential component of social cohesion, guiding and regulating society.

Social norms, taboos and folkways fall within the broad enclosure of mores and as such are directly tied to Sumners conception of mores.

Examples of Historical Changes

Over time, social attitudes towards certain types of behavior have changed, causing a shift in mores. For instance, during the 19th and early 20th centuries among the Eskimos, the practice of female infanticide was a widely accepted and regular part of social behavior.

However, over time, this practice slowly fell out of societal acceptance and became morally reprehensible. Another example is the decline in social acceptance of smoking over the years – smoking was generally socially acceptable in the past, but new information about its health risks has led to a shift in social attitudes, making it less and less acceptable.

Similarly, the way society perceives religious symbols has shifted, with people no longer finding them invariably sacrosanct.


Hiroshi Befu’s “Sociology of Japanese Mores” is an in-depth exploration of the peculiarities of Japanese mores, while Marvin M. Freeman’s “Shared Values: Morals, Nurture, and Family” discusses the family background of children and the influence of values and mores within a family setting.

Bernard N. Meltzer’s “Religion and Morality: an Evolutionary Perspective” explores the influence of religion on morality over time, with a focus on how religion affects social behaviors and values.

W.F. Nicolaisen’s “Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador: The Mores and

Folkways of Newfoundland” explores variations in the use of language and how they reflect differences in societal customs and behavior. Peter Manning’s “Civilizing Violence: An Ethnography of the New Guinea Mores” is an in-depth analysis of how New Guinea’s mores impact the society and its development.

Sarah E. Reidt’s “Fighting Multiculturalism: Mores, Morals, and the Politics of Black Exhaustion” explores the tensions between different cultural values and the impact that those tensions have on societal interactions.

Sumner’s “

Folkways” is a seminal work that explores the intricacies of mores and how they impact society.


Mores are an essential aspect of societal order that undergird social interactions and guide behavior through the application of moral values. While norms, folkways, and taboos share characteristics with mores, they differ in various ways, such as the way they are enforced, their flexibility, and severity of consequences.

Historical examples offer insights into changing mores and how broad social shifts can affect our societal attitudes. Understanding the intersection of mores and other social concepts is vital in comprehending society’s complexities in their different forms.

In conclusion, mores are an essential aspect of social order, guiding human interactions through the application of moral values. Mores are marked by traditional customs, moral values, and consistent adherence over time.

While they share similarities with other social concepts like norms, folkways, and taboos, they differ in various important ways. The discussion of changing mores in society and their comparison with other social concepts helps to shed light on the complexities of societal interactions and their evolution over time.

Understanding the multifaceted nature of mores and how they intersect with other social concepts is vital to navigating society’s intricacies.


Q: What are mores?

A: Mores are societal norms that govern behavior and social interactions.

Q: What distinguishes mores from other social concepts?

A: Mores are marked by traditional customs, moral values, and consistent adherence over time.

Q: How are mores enforced?

A: Mores are enforced through social approval or disapproval, rather than through formal punishment.

Q: What are taboos?


Taboos are extreme forms of prohibition that center on activities that are deemed excessively immoral, sinful, or otherwise unacceptable within a given society, and are often enforced with strict and severe social consequences.

Q: How do mores differ from norms?

A: Mores are more rigid and enforced through moral principles, while norms are more responsive to ongoing changes, reflecting a society’s developing cultural standards.

Q: What are folkways?


Folkways are informal societal customs that do not carry severe social consequences but contribute to more fluid and less tense social interactions.

Q: How have mores changed over time?

A: Changing social attitudes have led to the rise of new mores and the decline of old ones, resulting in broad social shifts over time.

Q: Why are mores important?

A: Mores help regulate behavior and prevent the breakdown of social order, promoting greater social cohesion between individuals and groups.

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