Social Institutions Examples

Updated December 16, 2020
social institutions example showing multi-ethnic group
    social institutions example showing multi-ethnic group
    Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images
    Used under license of Getty Images

A social institution consists of a group of people who have come together for a common purpose. These institutions are a part of the social order of society, and they govern the behavior and expectations of individuals. But what is a social institution in today's world? Keep reading for the five main social institutions found in all human groups, as well as other social institutions that are often found in modern societies.

The Family

Besides the individual, the family is the smallest unit in the field of sociology. It determines kinship, which is a family member's blood or marriage relationship to another family member. Additionally, the family institution serves as a child's first exposure to society. They will use the lessons and skills learned within the family in the larger community.

Examples of the secondary institutions of the family include:

  • the nuclear family (parents and children)
  • the extended family (relatives of parents and children)
  • marriage
  • families of choice (friendship groups)
  • cohabitation
  • parenthood
  • monogamy
  • polygamy
  • divorce

Most, if not all, families fall into one or more of these secondary institutions. They create a sense of identity and connection for individuals and pass societal culture between generations.

family institutions example showing multigenerational family
    family institutions example showing multigenerational family
    Ariel Skelley / DigitalVision / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Economic Institutions

The next level of social institution is the economy, or market institutions. Market institutions cover the industry that buys and sells goods.

Examples of secondary economic institutions are:

  • banking
  • businesses
  • capitalism
  • communism
  • corporations
  • credit unions
  • insurance companies
  • limited partnerships
  • property ownership
  • socialism
  • stock market
  • trust companies
  • welfare capitalism

Individuals engage in economic institutions to make a living to support themselves and their families. It helps them to procure the goods and services they require, and to sell other goods and services that others need.

economic institutions example stock exchange trading floor
    economic institutions example stock exchange trading floor
    Holger Leue / The Image Bank / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Religious Organizations

While not every individual participates in religious organizations, the institution of religion is present in every human society. Explore examples of secondary institutions of religion.

  • abbeys
  • churches
  • dioceses
  • missions
  • monasteries
  • mosques
  • taboos
  • temples
  • totems

Societies may include more than one religious institution, but the purpose of this social institution is the same no matter what religion it is. Religion reinforces the norms and values of a society, and its members generally contribute positively to that society.

religious social institutions with three generations reading Torah
    religious social institutions with three generations reading Torah
    Leland Bobbe / Corbis / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Educational Institutions

Educational institutions teach skills and knowledge to individuals. Like families, educational institutions pass culture to the next generation and equip them to fully participate in the greater society. Discover examples of secondary education institutions.

  • elementary schools
  • middle schools
  • high schools
  • school districts
  • colleges and universities
  • community colleges
  • graduate school
  • junior colleges
  • trade schools

The educational social institution can be cyclical. People who work in educational institutions, such as teachers, administrators and professors, have gone through the educational system themselves. They help to prepare the next generation for most professions in society, including educational careers.

educational social institutions showing kids in classroom
    educational social institutions showing kids in classroom
    Marko Geber / DigitalVision / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Government Institutions

Government, or the state, is another major social institution. Every society has a ruling class of some kind that makes decisions for citizens of the states.

Secondary institutions of the state include:

How each state functions depends on the type of government it has. In many modern societies, the government institution controls much of what happens in its citizens' daily lives, while other governments allow their citizens to exercise civil rights and liberties.

government institutions showing United States Capitol
    government institutions showing United States Capitol
    miralex / E+ / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Other Social Institution Examples

While the above social institutions are present in all human societies, they are certainly not the only social institutions you'll find. There are many more institutions found in some or most modern societies. These organizations help society operate and develop for the good of its citizens.


Examples of Community

A community is a group of people in the same area and under the same government. They can be defined according to their location and type of settlement.

Examples of communities are:

  • boroughs
  • burgs
  • castle towns
  • cities
  • company towns
  • hamlets
  • metropolis
  • military posts
  • municipalities
  • shanty towns
  • suburbs
  • towns
  • townships
  • villages

You'll find a number of extensive communities that are not defined by their location, but by the common attitudes or interests of their participants.

Examples include:

  • LGBT community
  • nudist community
  • professional learning community
  • retirement community
  • senior living communities

Community Service Organizations

Within communities are organizations to help with social issues. These community service organizations are often funded by local governments to serve the greater good.

  • animal shelters
  • Big Brothers and Big Sisters
  • Boys and Girls Clubs
  • Boy Scouts
  • Elks Lodge
  • food banks
  • Girl Scouts
  • homeless shelters
  • Kiwanis
  • Rotary clubs
  • soup kitchens

Ethnic or Cultural Groups

Ethnic or cultural groups are social institutions that include a group of extended family groups related by a distant, common ancestry. Members of ethnic groups do not need to be related to be connected in the shared experiences of their social institutions.

Examples include:

  • African Americans
  • Asians
  • Canadians
  • Hispanic people
  • Navajo people
  • Pacific Islanders

Healthcare Institutions

While some governments include healthcare as a secondary institution, other states prefer to keep these social institutions private.

Examples of organizations within the healthcare institution include:

  • adult daycare
  • doctor’s offices
  • clinics
  • Hospice
  • hospitals
  • sanatoriums

Justice System and Legal Institutions

The legal system is another institution that is typically run by the government. However, there are some societies that separate these institutions.

Parts of the justice system include:

  • appeals courts
  • district courts
  • federal courts
  • legal system
  • state courts
  • Supreme Court

Mass Media Institutions

Mass media shapes communication and opinions. It is present in most modern societies, but other human groups are not exposed to the same level of media saturation.

Elements of the institution of media include:

  • broadcasting corporations
  • film industry
  • Internet media companies
  • music industry
  • newspapers
  • publishing companies

Social Welfare Institutions

Institutions that ensure social welfare include worldwide nonprofit organizations and charities. They are similar to community service institutions but aren't limited to one community at a time.

Examples include:

  • ABC Nepal - Agroforestry, Basic health and Cooperative Nepal
  • ASPCA - American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • American Cancer Society
  • Catholic Charities USA
  • Feeding America
  • Food for the Poor
  • Goodwill Industries International
  • Humane Society of America
  • Li Ka Shing Foundation - Hong Kong
  • Robert Bosch Foundation - Germany
  • RSPCA - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  • Salvation Army
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
  • Task Force for Global Health
  • United Way
  • Wellcome Trust - UK
  • World Vision
  • YMCA

Living and Thriving in a Society

Social institutions exist to help individuals live their best lives in society. They are the building blocks of any functioning society of humans. Learn more about the examples of social norms that are upheld by social institutions. If you're interested in the problems that arise in today's global society, check out these examples of social justice issues facing the world.