Folkways are learned behaviors that a social group adopts and uses to offer a customary manner of acting. Folkways are social customs that the group’s members do not regard as having any moral value (e.g., customary behavior for use of the telephone). Folkways emerge through the continuous repeating of behaviors that successfully satiate fundamental human needs, just like habits do. These behaviors standardize and gain acceptance. Folkways primarily function subconsciously and endure because they are practical. They frequently band together on pressing social issues like dress code, formal occasions, and establishing social institutions (e.g., marriage and the family).
Folkways tend to become stronger over time, becoming more arbitrary, persuasive, and sanctioned by tradition, habit, and religion. When folkways develop into ethical principles—behaviors deemed crucial to the health of the society—they are referred to as mores (Sumner’s borrowing of the Latin word for customs). Mores are more coercive than folkways; when mores are broken, strong disapproval or punishment occurs instead of relatively moderate disapproval. The mores of American culture are broken by polygamy, and folkways are broken by not waiting one’s time.