The 5 Differences Between Law And Norm

The human being is a gregarious and social being that lives with other members of the same species. But coexistence is something complex, especially when it occurs among a large number of people who have their own needs, motivations and objectives. It is necessary, in order to ensure that the rights of its members are respected and to be able to organize, establish some regulations for the activity and behavior of each of the individuals that make up the group. These regulations can take different forms.

In this article we are going to talk precisely about the differences between law and norm two of the main types of regulations that significantly influence our behavior.

The law and the norm

Before talking about the differences between both concepts, let’s first establish a brief definition of each of them to understand the similarities and visualize why they cannot be considered the same.

We understand by norm that established and socially imposed regulation or principle that indicates expected behavior or necessary in certain situations. It is a social convention that does not necessarily have to be true or be obeyed in all cases, although it depends on the type of norm and its legal consideration. Its main function is to indicate and regulate human activity so that it adapts to what is socially accepted.

There are a wide variety of types of norms with different considerations, such as moral or legal ones. Failure to comply may result in some type of punishment depending on the situation.

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As far as the concept of law is concerned, this type of regulation involves the construction of a rule or norm considered legal and that has been established by the authority in order to set certain limits on the conduct permitted in society as well as the right to act within its margins. Failure to comply will always be pursued and punished. It applies to all citizens.

Given the definition of each of the concepts we can see that there is a certain connection between them. In fact, the law is considered a type of legal norm, mandatory. But despite this, both concepts present a series of particularities that mean that, unless it is specified that we are talking about a legal norm, it cannot be considered that law and norm are equal.

Main differences

Although in the brief previous definitions it is already possible to observe many of the differences between law and norm, below we will see them more clearly. It is important to keep in mind that in this section When we talk about norms we will refer to non-legal norms

1. Mandatory

One of the main differences between law and norm is found in the level of obligation with which the different subjects that are part of the population have to follow them.

In the case of the norm, the fact that it is mandatory or not will depend on its type and the evaluation made of it by whoever has to follow it. The norm itself only marks the expected behavior, but Breaking it does not imply incurring a crime (although it may have consequences) unless we are talking about a legal norm.

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In the case of the law and other types of legal regulations, compliance is mandatory, non-compliance resulting in a misdemeanor or crime and generating the application of a sanction.

2. Origin

Who establishes the regulation in question is, in most cases, a second difference between norm and law.

In general, we can consider that the norm is socially constructed and emanates from the majority opinion of a group or community or from an individual with power or influence in a certain context. However, These rules do not have to have legal repercussions and they can even go so far as to contravene what is established by law, in some cases being punishable.

For example, a person may decide to make it a rule that smoking is allowed in their bar, even though the law does not allow it. Despite this, many of these regulations can be voted on and later incorporated as laws.

As for the law, it is prepared and established by the legislative branch and must be previously approved by Congress before it can be applied.


The target or objective of law and regulation may also differ. The law applies or should be applied in all cases without exception, regulating the activity of all members of the same company without making distinctions. On the other hand, the norm can be directed at a specific group of people or a very specific situation, being limited and partial.

People outside this group will not be affected by it even if they are part of the same community (for example, the fact that one company does not allow its employees to have tattoos or that they have to hide them does not mean that it may be allowed in another).

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4. Flexibility and change

The level of change and flexibility that can be had in modifying regulations or the degree to which they can be interpreted can also vary greatly.

Norms can be reinterpreted and reworked with some ease, although it would be necessary to modify or introduce changes in the perception of those who establish them (which if it occurs at the level of a small group can be easy but if it is at a social level it can entail a great difficulty and a lot of time). When it comes to laws, their interpretation is not so free and if you want to modify them, it requires a procedure that can be complex, in addition to depending on the activity of the Administration.

5. Consequences of non-compliance

Failure to comply with both rules and laws can lead to a series of consequences. In the case of laws there will always be a sanction of some kind, these penalties and sanctions being already determined in advance In the case of rules, it is possible that there is no predetermined punishment for failing to comply with them or even that there is no punishment at all, although said failure may be punished through social rejection or consequences may also have been established in advance for those who do so.

Also in relation to science

Beyond the legal sense, we can also find that The differences between law and norm are also found at a scientific level: the norm establishes the behavior or the usual way of happening of some phenomenon without necessarily requiring it to be fulfilled, while a law is defined as that theory that is fulfilled in all cases or at least those of which there is evidence Until now.