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Reference Group Analysis Essay

A reference group is a group to which an individual or another group is compared.

Sociologists call any group that individuals use as a standard for evaluating themselves and their own behavior a reference group.

Reference groups are used in order to evaluate and determine the nature of a given individual or other group's characteristics and sociological attributes. It is the group to which the individual relates or aspires to relate himself or herself psychologically. It becomes the individual's frame of reference and source for ordering his or her experiences, perceptions, cognition, and ideas of self. It is important for determining a person's self-identity, attitudes, and social ties. It becomes the basis of reference in making comparisons or contrasts and in evaluating one's appearance and performance.

Reference groups provide the benchmarks and contrast needed for comparison and evaluation of group and personal characteristics. Robert K. Merton hypothesized that individuals compare themselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires.[1]

Reference groups are groups that people refer to when evaluating their [own] qualities, circumstances, attitudes, values and behaviors.

— William Thompson & Joseph Hickey, Society in Focus, 2005.[2]

Reference groups act as a frame of reference to which people always refer to evaluate their achievements, their role performance, aspirations and ambitions. A reference group can be either from a membership group or non-membership group. An example of a reference group being used would be the determination of affluence. An individual in the U.S. with an annual income of $80,000, may consider himself affluent if he compares himself to those in the middle of the income strata, who earn roughly $32,000 a year.[3] If, however, the same person considers the relevant reference group to be those in the top 0.1% of households in the US, those making $1.6 million or more, then the individual's income of $80,000 would make him or her seem rather poor.[4][5]


  1. ^Gerald Holton (4 December 2004). "Robert K. Merton - Biographical Memoirs"(PDF). Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 148 (4): 506–517. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2007-08-11. Retrieved 2007-08-07.  
  2. ^Thompson, William; Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN 0-205-41365-X. 
  3. ^"US Census Bureau, personal income distribution, age 25+, 2006". Archived from the original on 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2006-12-28. 
  4. ^Ehrenreich, Barbara (1989). Fear of Falling, The Inner Life of the Middle Class. New York, NY: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-097333-1. 
  5. ^"New York Times quote, households with incomes of over 1.6 million". Retrieved 2006-12-28. 

Group Analysis Essay

2543 Words11 Pages

Introduction An important part of our learning and growing experience must stem from our ability to analyze and reflect upon the groups that we have been members in. This reflection can define our understanding of the weaknesses both in ourselves and in the others within our group; and it can help to shape the way that we act in future groups. Adjusting ourselves to compensate for our weaknesses, based upon an honest and thorough examination of our actions within a group setting, is one of most important thing for any person to do. It is only through this evaluation that we can improve ourselves and our interactions with others. This paper will examine a group that was required to make an important decision about adding a new member…show more content…

The discussions broke the team members into two distinct groups. The debate that was held about the two candidates revolved main around the values that each member held to be more desirable; friendliness and experience versus reliability and knowledge. The first group argued that the friendlier candidate would be a better fit for the position mainly because the members of that group tended to be more heavily involved in people oriented side of the organization, while the other group and the other candidate were more versed in the technical side of the organization. However, rather than this group meeting basing its agenda on the discussion of the values of the candidates, it was a series of comparison arguments in which each side attempted to argue why the other candidate would not do well in the open position. Both groups turned away from the civility required for such a group discussion to be rational and productive, and instead adopted a hostile approach. Group member cohesiveness was absent from the group meeting for several reasons, but the primary reasons were due to the fact that the group members did not have a common description of value or structure to the discussion. Each member viewed their own area of involvement within the organization as being more valuable than any other area, and it was this exclusion of other valuable traits that lead the group to begin to clash in such a

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