What Are Social Values?

Societies aren't only defined by their institutions, the socioeconomic systems that govern them, or their government policies. They're also made up of the social values that guide them.
What Are Social Values?

Last update: 28 March, 2022

As humans, we don’t only live in society, we are that society. Indeed, each one of us is a social being who acts, lives, and dies in a social structure that configures what we are. This fabric guides the way individuals and groups act, live, and relate. It’s based, among other pillars, on certain social values.

A value, on a personal level, can be understood as a set of beliefs and attitudes that you express, based on certain principles considered positive and important, which give meaning and direction to your life. In fact, a value is something that gives real significance to your life. However, what are values at a social level? What functions do they have?

Social values

Blue wooden figures
Social values give meaning to your life.

Your values are qualities that guide your actions and provide full meaning to your life when you live in harmony with them. Accordingly, in society, values perform the same functions as on a personal level. They give direction to the behavior of individuals and groups within the social structure.

Social values are qualities, attitudes, and standards that individuals and groups use to guide their actions. These values are the foundation for establishing social order within groups. Through them, a society determines what’s acceptable or not, what should be done or not, and what’s desirable or not.

Social values carry with them a set of implicit and explicit conceptions about the desire and action of a subject within the social fabric of society. Thus, they set the tone for social behavior, according to the context and the situation. These types of values encourage citizens to align their actions with the character of society.

With the introjection of these values, societies seek to promote and maintain harmony in the mental world of the individual. By operating as guides, they let people know how to act and relate to others in particular situations. Thanks to them, interactions between citizens can be strengthened and good coexistence guaranteed.

The social function of values

In relation to social knowledge, values allow the construction of the social world, facilitating the relationship between individuals and reality. Through them, each person configures their conceptions about the social world in which they live. Furthermore, the system spreads the current regulations of society.

We extract information by interacting with our environment. This information requires an organization and classification, in such a way that it can be structured in an understanding of the social environment. To do this, one of the means used is social values. These appear as organizational principles that shape the social world.

Social values not only facilitate the construction and organization of the social world but also allow the social identification of subjects. Each person develops a bond with those groups who share their own personal value systems. As a matter of fact, it’s this process of adhering to a group that forges the social identity of the person within it.

If each group and person has its own value system, then we can find as many social values as there are groups. Therefore, we can say that values aren’t only reduced to society in general, they’re also specific to the groups or collectives that have been formed within it.

In each group or society, these values are transmitted from generation to generation through education. This seeks to legitimize the order that these values have established within the group.

Types of social values

Group of people holding each other's arms to help each other
Respect, honesty, love, freedom, and justice are examples of social values.

Social values can vary from one group to another, and from one society to another. However, there are some that can be extended to every society. Let’s take a look at them.

  • Respect. It allows a person to recognize, accept, appreciate and value the qualities of others and their rights.
  • Honesty. A social value characterized by telling the truth, being decent, modest, respectful, and fair.
  • Justice. Being equitable and giving each individual what’s due to them.
  • Tolerance. Respect for the beliefs and practices of other people when they’re different from our own.
  • Goodness. The tendency to do good. It also implies a considerable degree of compassion, of being and suffering with the other person and looking for ways to alleviate their pain.
  • Freedom. Power to act according to one’s own criteria, within the limits established within society.
  • Love. The value that motivates a person to care, respect, and commit to the well-being of others without expecting a benefit in return. It means stepping outside of ourselves to meet the other and love them as they are.
  • Tolerance. Accepting and respecting the ideas, opinions, and attitudes of others, even if we don’t agree with them.
  • Education. One of the most important values. That’s because, within it, other values can be taught. In fact, education involves the correct formation of people, both intellectually, emotionally, and morally.

Finally, it should be emphasized that social values can change and aren’t static. On the contrary, they’re dynamic, just like society itself.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Berger, P. L., Luckmann, T., & Zuleta, S. (1968). La construcción social de la realidad. Amorrortu.
  • Cordero, Z. R. V. (2004). Desarrollo moral, valores y ética; una investigación dentro del aula. Revista Educación28(2), 91-104.
  • Hernández, C. (1986). Los valores sociales, un instrumento para el conocimiento social del niño Su reflejo en la comunicación publicitaria. Infancia y Aprendizaje9(35-36), 109-122.
  • Tsirogianni S., Sammut G., Park E. (2014) Social Values and Good Living. In: Michalos A.C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_3666

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.