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32 Examples of Social Change

 , updated on August 10, 2023
Social change is change to the systems, structures and practices that shape life in a place. This is an ongoing process that has been in place since the beginning of history but arguably accelerates with time such that societies change faster now than the historical norm. The following are common examples of social change.

Demographics

Demographics is the composition of society at a point in time including factors just as age, gender and ethnicity. This changes with births, deaths, emigration, immigration and the process of life such as aging. For example, most, if not all, developed countries have become more ethnically diverse in the past 50 years.

Roles

The roles that people play in a society, community, organization and family change over time. Historically, people were often born into roles based on identity factors such as class and gender. Modern societies have shifted to allow people to freely determine their own roles as individuals. For example, historically men were expected or required to take on high risk occupations such as military combat. Many nations now encourage women to take on these roles.

Power

Power is the control of resources. The historical and present distribution of power are somewhat similar whereby a small elite controls most resources. Historically, this was often an aristocratic or military elite. The modern upper class are more likely to be entrepreneurs or rent seeking families. Where a nation has a large and thriving middle class they can challenge the upper class for control of resources. For example, the middle class in America have slightly greater collective wealth at $36.9 trillion than the 1% richest at $35 trillion. A large and thriving middle class is a basis for higher quality of life and the advancement of a nation.

Politics

Politics is the process by which societies make decisions and allocate resources. Historically, politics was centered around economic class. In recent decades, this has arguably fragmented whereby people are less likely to identify with their common class interests. For example, identity politics in the United States based on factors such as ethnicity and gender.

Education

Changing approaches to education. For example, standardized testing that encourages a shift towards convergent thinking and away from divergent thinking. Alternatively, education can shift towards self-directed research, experimentation and design with a supporting program that provides exposure to broad knowledge.

Academia

At the university level, education is influenced by dominant academic approaches such as postmodernism. As ideas are the seeds of social change these trends have broad influence over society. For example, the belief that reality itself can be defined by the individual as supported by postmodernist relativism.

Community

Community is the way that people interact with other people. This is a basic human need that was historically achieved with automatic memberships in things like religions, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. Modern communities tend to be much more flexible and voluntary. For example, an individual working from home in a modern high-rise building may have virtually no expectations placed on them to interact with the community but may have thousands of options as to groups that they can join.

Individualism

Generally speaking, modern values have shifted towards individualism over collective pursuits and identity. This shift towards individual rights and identity and away from a sense of responsibility to a collective identity can be viewed as a large scale type of social change.

Rights & Freedoms

The building up or eroding of rights and freedoms that allow individuals and groups to pursue happiness as they see it. Rights and freedoms tend to conflict whereby one individual's freedoms can inhibit another individual's rights. For example, children had a culture of play in the street before the automobile proliferated in the early 20th century leading to bans on playing in the street. In this case, the right to free movement and economic pursuit was prioritized over the right to play. In recent, years this has been challenged in many cities with the establishment of play streets and other facilities for children in public spaces.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle is the way that people live. In the modern age, this has changed rapidly with each generation. For example, trends towards marrying older or not at all and having less children.

Technology

Technology that has changed communication, media, work, recreation and leisure. For example, the ability to spend time in virtual environments or work with mixed reality entities such as a digital twin.

Long Tail

Long tail is a broad social and economic trend whereby nonprofessionals are able to compete in domains traditionally dominated by professionals. This is largely a result of the internet and the consumerization of technology. For example, a small media company of 1 - 10 people that competes with far larger firms to deliver news, information, entertainment or education.

DIY

As information and online communities have proliferated people are increasingly engaging in design and production for themselves. As a result, markets for DIY supplies and technologies such as 3D printing have boomed.

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs lead economic change and also tend to influence other elements of society such as lifestyles. Generally speaking, countries that embrace entrepreneurship and risk taking change more quickly than countries where talent prefer the stability and the status of working for large old firms.

City & Country

Cities are a basic element of social change. Likewise, the countryside of a nation changes with time. Developed nations have become far more urbanized in the past 200 years. The shape of this urbanization changes with time. For example, the automobile transformed cities around roads, highways and large suburbs. In many cities, this process has begun to reverse as people are more likely to work from home and value living in close proximity to everything they need. As lifestyles change, people may find that cities aren't designed for their needs and demand change to their urban environment.

Culture

Culture is a set of shared practices and meaning that emerge through shared experience. Generally speaking, the introduction of the internet in the 1990s led to a fragmentation of culture as subcultures grew and less people identified with common elements of national or traditional cultures.

Traditions

Traditions are enduring elements of culture. The point of traditions is that they provide stability as they allow the continuation of the same culture from one generation to the next. However, they certainly do change with time. For example, Japanese Yosakoi dance is based on traditional elements but is relatively young as it first emerged in 1954. It is also constantly innovated as teams, including university and community teams, choreograph new elements within the context of traditional festivals.

Family

Change to family life and structure such as smaller families or a shift towards multi-generational households. There can also be dramatic changes to that ways that families communicate and spend time that occur in a short period of time. For example, parents that work shorter hours such that they can become more involved in parenting.

Media

Changes in media consumption and participation. For example, the proliferation of mobile devices that allow for personal consumption of media over shared experiences such as watching television together.

Infrastructure

The development or decline of the soft infrastructure such as universities and hard infrastructure such as data networks. Infrastructure is the basis for the economic efficiency of a place and is one of the key differentiators between developed and developing countries. As a society builds out infrastructure its international competitiveness and economic growth prospects tend to improve.

Growth & Decline

Periods of economic growth and economic decline. Generally speaking, capitalist countries that are politically stable grow over time driven forward by the profit motive and the human propensity to advance and improve. These periods are eventually punctuated with periods of economic decline that can bring fear and hardship to a generation.

Working Conditions

Working conditions is the satisfaction of workers with their working life. Historically, work was long, toilsome and high risk. Developed countries have slowly improved this with time to the point that many people comfortably work from home less than 40 hours a week. However, human toil is still a significant issue as are workplace related injury and sickness.

Globalization

Globalization is the interconnection of different places on a global basis. This process has been underway for thousands of years but is greatly accelerated now due to advances in transportation such as the airplane and communication such as the internet.

Commoditization

Commoditization is the process by which something that was once viewed as unique and valuable becomes an indistinguishable commodity produced at great scale. For example, it can be argued that lifestyle goods and luxury goods represent the commoditization of social status whereby people buy symbols of respect as a product or service. This can be compared to the process of earning respect by your actions in a society or community.

Bread & Circuses

Bread and circuses describes a pathetic state of mediocrity whereby individuals only value comfort and convenience. This theory would predict that as people are easily feed and entertained by a modern industrial economy they may cease to care about anything beyond their own satisfaction.

Environment

The degradation of the environment causing declines in quality of life. This is often due to unconstrained production of economic bads. It is also possible for things to go the other way whereby a community stops damaging a shared resource such as a lake or a river such that it is allowed to recover.

Worldview

Changing elements of worldview such as knowledge, opinions, attitudes, morals and values.

Health

Elements of health including things like diet, exercise, behavior, social interaction and medicine. For example, child and infant mortality has dramatically declined on a global basis in the past 30 years. However, this remains a tragic and underappreciated issue as 5.2 million children under 5 died in 2019.

Shared Experience

Changes to the way that we spend time together and the meaning that we attach to these experiences.

Storytelling

Creative works that tell a story such as fiction, art and film have a tendency to create social change and invent the future. For example, most major inventions are imagined by writers decades to centuries before they are actually invented in the real world. This is true of inventions such as mobile devices, submarines, space travel, robots and artificial intelligence. It is also common for social constructs in fiction to become important elements of language, thinking and culture.

Development

Development is the capacity of a poor nation to leave behind instability and suffering to work towards the high quality of life of developed countries. This may benefit from international cooperation and support.

Resilience

Resilience is the ability of a society to withstand stresses. Without resilience a society will experience instability whereby periods of prosperity and calm are followed by dramatic declines driven by environmental destruction, conflict, war, disease or natural disasters.
Next: Culture Change
More about social change:
Capitalist
Civil Society
Commodity
Culture
Demographics
Digital Twin
Divergent Thinking
Diy
Economic Bads
Economic Problems
Freedoms
Globalization
Individualism
Industrial Complex
Lifestyle
Long Tail
Mediocrity
Middle Class
Play Streets
Postmodernism
Profit Motive
Quality Of Life
Relativism
Rent Seeking
Resilience
Right To Play
Rights
Shared Experience
Social Class
Social Conflict
Social Constructs
Social Forces
Social Groups
Social Influence
Social Issues
Social Power
Social Process
Social Roles
Social Stability
Social Status
Social Systems
Social Values
Society
Storytelling
Subcultures
Toil
Traditions
Upper Class
Working Conditions
Worldview
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References

United Nations, Levels and Trends in Child Mortality: 2020 Report.
United States Federal Reserve, Comparing the assets of the rich, poor, and middle class, 2019.

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