Home >> Basic Concepts >>Social Groups >> Primary Groups

Primary Groups

If all groups are important to their members and to society, some groups are more important than others. Early in the twentieth century, Charles H. Cooley gave the name, primary groups, to those groups that he said are characterized by intimate face-to-face association and those are fundamental in the development and continued adjustment of their members.

He identified three basic primary groups, the family, the child's play group, and the neighborhoods or community among adults. These groups, he said, are almost universal in all societies; they give to people their earliest and most complete experiences of social unity; they are instrumental in the development of the social life; and they promote the integration of their members in the larger society.

Since Cooley wrote, over 65 years ago, life in the United States has become much more urban, complex, and impersonal, and the family play group and neighborhood have become less dominant features of the social order.

Secondary groups, characterized by anonymous, impersonal, and instrumental relationships, have become much more numerous. People move frequently, often from one section of the country to another and they change from established relationships and promoting widespread loneliness. Young people, particularly, turn to drugs, seek communal living groups and adopt deviant lifestyles in attempts to find meaningful primary-group relationships. The social context has changed so much so that primary group relationship today is not as simple as they were in Cooley's time.