What Is the Difference Between Values and Norms?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 31, 2020 5:24:51 PM ET

The difference between values and norms is that the former are abstract thoughts while the latter are external actions. In sociology, a culture's values relate to commonly held beliefs about what is considered desirable and proper, while cultural norms are the established behaviors that reflect those values.

Values are the collective conception of what a societal group thinks is morally right and good. Norms are the generally established standards of behavior maintained by a society. Sets of values and norms often exist in contradiction to other values and norms within a society. There are also frequent discrepancies between what a society claims to value and believe and what actually occurs. The values that a society would like to follow represent part of what sociologists term an "ideal culture." The norms of behavior that represent how people actually act are part of "real culture."

Norms are classified as either formal or informal. This means that sets of socially accepted behaviors are either established as written rules or are more casual but prevalent ways to behave. A country's laws are an example of a formal norm. Folkways and traditional mores are examples of informal norms. Folkways are not morally significant and do not often attract punishment if broken. Mores include a moral component , and most people take offense when a more is broken, often leading to social punishment of the transgressor in some form.