According to sociologists, people have statuses in society. These define how we fit into various groups. We also have roles that are tied to our statuses. These are the behaviors that we are expected to exhibit due to our status in a group. When statuses and roles and organized to fulfill a basic societal need, that organization is called a social institution. Social institutions, then, are organized systems of statuses and roles that fulfill a societal need such as physical emotional support for members of the society, the transmission of knowledge, or the production of goods and services.
Many sociologists say that there are five major social institutions. These are the family, the economy, the political system, the educational system, and religion. Each of these members who have specific statuses (the father in a family, a voter in the political system) and play specific roles. By encouraging people to play the roles proper to their statuses, these institutions help keep society stable.