Resistance to Change

In most cases laws face resistance by members of society who find different reasons for their resistance such as their values, customs, or even the cost of change and sometimes because people feel threatened by the change. Knowing the conditions of change helps in the implementation of laws. The factors that are a barrier to change are separated into social, psychological, cultural, and economic factors and all are interdependent.

Social factors

Vested interests

Change is opposed by individuals or groups who fear they will lose their power, prestige or wealth when the new law is introduced. Examples are vested interests of residents in a community who oppose zoning regulations or interstate highways, vested interests of faculty in getting research money, etc. Also, the efforts of the Soviet Union to assert independence of Moslem women against males were opposed by bands of males who murdered women that obeyed the law.

Social class
In highly stratified societies, people of upper classes oppose changes because they fear losing privileges over the lower classes. Ex: in Pakistan people of different classes can go to the same schools, draw water from the same well etc. generally working class people supports changes while the lower and upper classes resist changes.

Ideological resistance

It is quite widespread. Example: resistance of Catholic Church to laws and legislation on the removal of some restrictions on abortion and birth control. In 1982 a pill that ended pregnancy within weeks was developed in France. By 1990s it was available in France, Sweden, and Britain. But protests of antiabortionists and threats of US citizens no to use products of the company that sold the pill stopped its spread. From 2000 this pill has been approved in US. Usually religious assumptions, interpretations on power, security are not open to change.

Organized Opposition

Sometimes individual resistance to change can be organized and channeled into social movements or lobbyists. Ex: John Birch Society has opposed acceptance and legal protection of pornography. The lack of opposition can be fatal as the example of Jews who didn’t organize resistance.

Psychological factors


Habits are behaviors that people are accustomed to and are comfortable with and as such habits resist change. Customs are collective habits of a society and trying to change them requires a reorientation of values and behaviors of society. Ex; introducing the metric system in US was resisted.


Is very important in accepting change through law. Some motivations are related to culture and may allow change and some focus on preserving status quo. Some motivations are universal such as the desire for prestige and economic gain but if those are threatened, change is resisted.


Is often the cause of prejudice and is related to the fear of the new. Ex: many individuals assumed that citrus fruit caused problems to the digestive tract. Once it was proved otherwise, the resistance to citrus fruit faded.

Selective perception

Even though law is intended to be universal, the perception of people on law is selective and varies with economic, cultural and demographic variables and also with attitudes, needs and values of people. A change is accepted easily if it is related to the interests of people and supports their values. Ex: in India law provides distribution of family-planning info and supplies. But many villagers refuse using contraceptives because they think the law aim to stop birth completely. The laws should be formulated clearly so there in misunderstanding by people.

Moral development

The obedience to law relies highly on a sense of obligation. Moral codes are another factor. Lawrence Kohlberg defines 6 stages of moral development:

  1. Obedience and punishment– involves respect to superior authorities and avoidance of troublepremoral stage.

  2. Instrumental relativism– people try to satisfy needs by negotiating with otherspremoral stage.

  3. Personal concordance– people adhere to prevailing norms and comply with the majority.

  4. Law and order– people respect those in authority and focus on doing their duty.

  5. Social contract– contracts are used for commitments and people respect them.

  6. Individual principles– include conscience, mutual trust and respect as principles of behavior.

If this theory is true, the law is limited on the stage of moral development of citizens which should be considered depending on their social class. If the majority is stages 1 and 2, institutional enforcement is used to maintain order. In stages 3 and 4 law is more limited and in 5 and 6 even more limited. But this depends on the conformity of law with beliefs and values of society.

Cultural factors


In many cultures people believe they have no control over their lives and God or evil spirit causes everything. They don’t use fertilizers because they believe God is responsible for their success. They resist change because it is human-enacted and not from divine origin.


Some people consider themselves “superior” with the only rights ways of thinking, etc. This causes ignorance towards others’ ideas and methods and resistance to change. Ex; whites that consider themselves superior have hindered integration of other races in many institutions.


When the proposed law and change is contradictory to the system of the target group change is hardly implemented. Ex: in Israel the law of reducing legal marriage age for girls to 17 was not applied by Jews and Arabs that allow marriage even at lower ages.


Which is a belief not substantiated by facts, can hinder change. Ex: In some places a baby is not given water for many months after birth because it is believed water’s cold nature upsets the baby’s heat equilibrium. In Zimbabwe women do not eat eggs because they are believed to cause infertility.

Economic factors

Limited economic resources and high costs are often a barrier to change. Change through law is very costly because of the instrumentation of legislation, administrative ruling or court decisions that are all costly. For ex. federal regulations have increased the costs of institutions of higher education thus, resist further changes and require modification of current regulations. The distribution of costs and benefits also effects resistance. If they are equally distributed there is little resistance but if benefits are low and costs are concentrated, resistance is high.
Generally economic factors are decisive in affecting resistance to change. No matter how much somebody wants something if economic sacrifice is too great or they can’t afford it, change doesn’t occur.

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