Chapter 6: Beliefs, Values, and Cultural Universals

Nolan Weil

Suggested Focus

This chapter delves into two theories of cultural values in more detail. The following tasks invite you not only to restate ideas from the chapter but also to apply the theories to communities of your own choosing.

  1. What are the five questions that every society must answer, according to Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck? Identify the three potential responses to each question.
  2. List and define Hofstede’s six dimensions of culture. Choose two national cultures that interest you. Compare and contrast them using Hofstede’s model.
  3. Identify four problems that critics have identified with Hofstede’s theory.
  4. Do you think it is possible to identify national values, or do you think values differ significantly from person to person and place to place? Explain.

Value Orientations Theory

The Kluckhohn-Strodtbeck Value Orientations theory represents one of the earliest efforts to develop a cross-cultural theory of values. According to Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961), every culture faces the same basic survival needs and must answer the same universal questions. It is out of this need that cultural values arise. The basic questions faced by people everywhere fall into five categories and reflect concerns about: 1) human nature, 2) the relationship between human beings and the natural world, 3) time, 4) human activity, and 5) social relations. Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck hypothesized three possible responses or orientations to each of the concerns.

Table 6.1 – Summary of Kluckhohn-Strodtbeck Values Orientation Theory

Basic Concerns Orientations
Human nature Evil Mixed Good
Relationship to natural world Subordinate Harmony Dominant
Time Past Present Future
Activity Being Becoming Doing
Social relations Hierarchical Collateral Individual

What is the inherent nature of human beings?

This is a question, say Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, that all societies ask, and there are generally three different responses. The people in some societies are inclined to believe that people are inherently evil and that the society must exercise strong measures to keep the evil impulses of people in check. On the other hand, other societies are more likely to see human beings as born basically good and possessing an inherent tendency towards goodness. Between these two poles are societies that see human beings as possessing the potential to be either good or evil depending upon the influences that surround them. Societies also differ on whether human nature is immutable (unchangeable) or mutable (changeable).

What is the relationship between human beings and the natural world?

Some societies believe nature is a powerful force in the face of which human beings are essentially helpless. We could describe this as “nature over humans.” Other societies are more likely to believe that through intelligence and the application of knowledge, humans can control nature. In other words, they embrace a “humans over nature” position. Between these two extremes are the societies who believe humans are wise to strive to live in “harmony with nature.”

What is the best way to think about time?

Some societies are rooted in the past, believing that people should learn from history and strive to preserve the traditions of the past. Other societies place more value on the here and now, believing people should live fully in the present. Then there are societies that place the greatest value on the future, believing people should always delay immediate satisfactions while they plan and work hard to make a better future.

What is the proper mode of human activity?

In some societies, “being” is the most valued orientation. Striving for great things is not necessary or important. In other societies, “becoming” is what is most valued. Life is regarded as a process of continual unfolding. Our purpose on earth, the people might say, is to become fully human. Finally, there are societies that are primarily oriented to “doing.” In such societies, people are likely to think of the inactive life as a wasted life. People are more likely to express the view that we are here to work hard and that human worth is measured by the sum of accomplishments.

What is the ideal relationship between the individual and society?

Expressed another way, we can say the concern is about how a society is best organized. People in some societies think it most natural that a society be organized hierarchically. They hold to the view that some people are born to lead and others to follow. Leaders, they feel, should make all the important decisions. Other societies are best described as valuing collateral relationships. In such societies, everyone has an important role to play in society; therefore, important decisions should be made by consensus. In still other societies, the individual is the primary unit of society. In societies that place great value on individualism, people are likely to believe that each person should have control over his/her own destiny. When groups convene to make decisions, they should follow the principle of “one person, one vote.”

In an early application of the theory, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck interviewed members of five cultural groups in the American Southwest: 1) Navajo people traveling around the Southwest seeking work, 2) white homesteaders in Texas, 3) Mexican-Americans, 4) Mormon villagers, and 5) Zuni pueblo dwellers. Researchers have found the framework useful in making sense of diverse cultures around the world.

As Hill (2002) has observed, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck did not consider the theory to be complete. In fact, they originally proposed a sixth value orientation—Space: here, there, or far away, which they could not quite figure out how to investigate at the time. And Hill has proposed a number of additional questions that one might expect cultural groups to grapple with:

  • Space – Should space belong to individuals, to groups (especially the family) or to everybody?
  • Work – What should be the basic motivation for work? To make a contribution to society, to have a sense of personal achievement, or to attain financial security?
  • Gender – How should society distribute roles, power and responsibility between the sexes? Should decision-making be done primarily by men, by women, or by both?
  • The Relationship between State and Individual – Should rights and responsibilities be granted to the nation or the individual?

Today, the Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck framework is just one among many attempts to study universal human values. Others include those of Hofstede (1997), Rokeach (1979), and Schwartz (2006).

Hofstede’s dimensions of culture theory

Geert Hofstede articulated a Dimensions of Culture theory in the 1980s, and has updated and revised it over the years. Hofstede’s theory currently gets a lot of attention in basic texts that include discussion of cultural values. Based on survey data collected from IBM employees, Hofstede has argued that his theory is particularly useful for highlighting similarities and differences between national cultures. Hofstede initially identified four dimensions.

Power Distance

Power distance is a measure of the degree to which less powerful members of society expect and accept an unequal distribution of power. There is a certain degree of inequality in all societies, notes Hofstede; however, there is relatively more equality in some societies than in others. Countries vary along a continuum from countries where power distance is very low to countries where power distance is very high. Measured on a scale of 1-100 for instance, Denmark scores very low and Mexico scores quite high. The U.S. falls somewhere in between.

Countries with lower PDI values tend to be more egalitarian. For instance, there is more equality between parents and children with parents more likely to accept it if children argue with them, or “talk back” to use a common expression. In the work place, bosses are more likely to ask employees for input, and in fact, subordinates expect to be consulted. On the other hand, in countries with high power distance, parents expect children to obey without questioning. People of higher status may expect conspicuous displays of respect from subordinates. In the workplace, superiors and subordinates are not likely to see each other as equals, and it is assumed that bosses will make decisions without consulting employees. In general, status is more important in high power distance countries.

Table 6.2 – Power distance index (PDI) for 50 countries and 3 regions (Hofstede, 1997: 26)

Country/

Region

PDI Country/

Region

PDI Country/

Region

PDI Country/

Region

PDI
Malaysia *104 France 68 South Korea 60 Australia 36
Guatemala 95 Hong Kong 68 Iran 58 Costa Rica 35
Panama 95 Colombia 67 Taiwan 58 Germany 35
Philippines 94 Salvador 66 Spain 57 Great Britain 35
Mexico 81 Turkey 66 Pakistan 55 Switzerland 34
Venezuela 81 Belgium 65 Japan 54 Finland 33
Arab countries 80 East Africa 64 Italy 50 Norway 31
Ecuador 78 Peru 64 Argentina 49 Sweden 31
Indonesia 78 Thailand 64 South Africa 49 Ireland 28
India 77 Chile 63 Jamaica 45 New Zealand 22
West Africa 77 Portugal 63 USA 40 Denmark 18
Yugoslavia 76 Uruguay 61 Canada 39 Israel 13
Singapore 74 Greece 60 Netherlands 38 Austria 11
Brazil 69

* A country may score above 100 if it was added after a formula for the scale had already been fixed.

Table 6.3 – Individualism index (IDV) for 50 countries and 3 regions (Hofstede, 1997: 53)

Country/

Region

IDV Country/

Region

IDV Country/

Region

IDV Country/

Region

IDV
USA 91 Germany 67 Turkey 37 Thailand 20
Australia 90 South Africa 65 Uruguay 36 Salvador 19
Great Britain 89 Finland 63 Greece 35 South Korea 18
Canada 80 Austria 55 Philippines 32 Taiwan 17
Netherlands 80 Israel 54 Mexico 30 Peru 16
New Zealand 79 Spain 51 Yugoslavia 27 Costa Rica 15
Italy 76 India 48 East Africa 27 Indonesia 14
Belgium 75 Japan 46 Portugal 27 Pakistan 14
Denmark 74 Argentina 46 Malaysia 26 Colombia 13
France 71 Iran 41 Hong Kong 25 Venezuela 12
Sweden 71 Jamaica 39 Chile 23 Panama 11
Ireland 70 Arab countries 38 West Africa 20 Ecuador 8
Norway 69 Brazil 38 Singapore 20 Guatemala 6
Switzerland 68

Individualism vs. collectivism

Individualism vs. collectivism anchor opposite ends of a continuum that describes how people define themselves and their relationships with others. Countries that score higher on individualism measure are considered by definition less collectivistic than countries that score lower. In more highly individualistic societies, the interests of individuals receive more emphasis than those of the group (e.g., the family, the company, etc.). Individualistic societies put more value on self-striving and personal accomplishment, while more collectivistic societies put more emphasis on the importance of relationships and loyalty. People are defined more by what they do in individualistic societies while in collectivistic societies, they are defined more by their membership in particular groups. Communication is more direct in individualistic societies but more indirect in collectivistic societies. The U.S. ranks very high in individualism, and South Korea ranks quite low. Japan falls close to the middle.

Masculinity vs. femininity

Masculinity vs. femininity refers to a dimension that describes the extent to which strong distinctions exist between men’s and women’s roles in society. Societies that score higher on the masculinity scale tend to value assertiveness, competition, and material success. Countries that score lower in masculinity tend to embrace values more widely thought of as feminine values, e.g., modesty, quality of life, interpersonal relationships, and greater concern for the disadvantaged of society. Societies high in masculinity are also more likely to have strong opinions about what constitutes men’s work vs. women’s work while societies low in masculinity permit much greater overlapping in the social roles of men and women.

Table 6.4 – Masculinity index (MAS) for 50 countries and 3 regions (Hofstede, 1997: 84)

Country/

Region

MAS Country/

Region

MAS Country/

Region

MAS Country/

Region

MAS
Japan 95 USA 62 Singapore 48 South Korea 39
Austria 79 Australia 61 Israel 47 Uruguay 38
Venezuela 73 New Zealand 58 Indonesia 46 Guatemala 37
Italy 70 Hong Kong 57 West Africa 46 Thailand 34
Switzerland 70 Greece 57 Turkey 45 Portugal 31
Mexico 69 India 56 Taiwan 45 Chile 28
Ireland 69 Argentina 56 Panama 44 Finland 26
Jamaica 68 Belgium 54 France 43 Yugoslavia 21
Germany 66 Arab countries 53 Iran 43 Costa Rica 21
Great Britain 66 Canada 52 Peru 42 Denmark 16
Philippines 64 Malaysia 50 Spain 42 Netherlands 14
Colombia 64 Pakistan 50 East Africa 41 Norway 8
Ecuador 63 Brazil 49 Salvador 40 Sweden 5
South Africa 63

Uncertainty avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance measures the extent to which people value predictability and view uncertainty or the unknown as threatening. People in societies that measure high in uncertainty avoidance prefer to know exactly what to expect in any given situation. They want firm rules and strict codes of behavior. They dislike ambiguity. People from countries that score low on uncertainty avoidance generally have a higher tolerance for ambiguity. They are happy to have few rules and prefer less structured rather than more tightly structured contexts. In educational settings, people from countries high in uncertainty avoidance expect their teachers to be experts with all of the answers. People from countries low in uncertainty avoidance don’t mind it when a teacher says, “I don’t know.”

Table 6.5 – Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI)/ 50 countries and 3 regions (Hofstede, 1997: 113)

Country/

Region

UAI Country/

Region

UAI Country/

Region

UAI Country/

Region

UAI
Greece 112 Costa Rica 86 Ecuador 67 Indonesia 48
Portugal 104 Turkey 85 Germany 65 Canada 48
Guatemala 101 South Korea 85 Thailand 64 USA 46
Uruguay 100 Mexico 82 Iran 59 Philippines 44
Salvador 94 Israel 81 Finland 59 India 40
Belgium 94 Colombia 80 Switzerland 58 Malaysia 36
Japan 92 Venezuela 76 West Africa 54 Great Britain 35
Yugoslavia 88 Brazil 76 Netherlands 53 Ireland 35
Peru 87 Italy 75 East Africa 52 Hong Kong 29
Panama 86 Pakistan 70 Australia 51 Sweden 29
France 86 Austria 70 Norway 50 Denmark 23
Chile 86 Taiwan 69 South Africa 49 Jamaica 13
Spain 86 Arab countries 68 New Zealand 49 Singapore 8
Argentina 86

Long-term vs. short-term orientation

Long-term vs. short-term orientation is a 5th dimension developed some years after the initial four. It emerged as a result of an effort by a research group (The Chinese Culture Connection, 1987) to develop a universal values framework with a non-Western bias. According to Hofstede (1997: 161), the resulting Chinese Values Survey overlapped with three of Hofstede’s dimensions: power distance, individualism, and masculinity although not with the uncertainty avoidance dimension. In addition, the group found a unique factor not reflected in Hofstede’s work, which they called Confucian dynamism. Hofstede has since incorporated Confucian dynamism into his own theory as long-term vs. short-term orientation. Long-term orientation is associated with thrift, savings, persistence toward results, and the willingness to subordinate oneself for a purpose. Short-term orientation is associated with less saving, a preference for quick results, and unrestrained spending in response to social pressure (often referred to in English as “keeping up with the Joneses”).

Table 6.6 – Long-term orientation (LTO) for 23 countries (Hofstede, 1997: 166)

Country LTO Country LTO Country LTO Country LTO
China 118 India 61 Poland 32 Zimbabwe 25
Hong Kong 96 Thailand 56 Germany 31 Canada 23
Taiwan 87 Singapore 48 Australia 31 Philippines 19
Japan 80 Netherlands 44 New Zealand 30 Nigeria 16
South Korea 75 Bangladesh 40 USA 29 Pakistan 0
Brazil 65 Sweden 33 Great Britain 25

Indulgence vs. self-restraint

Indulgence vs. self-restraint represents another new dimension. People living in countries that score high on indulgence are more likely to value the free gratification of human desires. Enjoying life and having fun are important to them. On the other hand, people in countries high on restraint are more likely to believe that gratification should be curbed and that it should be regulated by strict social norms (Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov, 2010: 281).

Table 6.7 – Indulgence vs. Restraint. Ranking of 40 countries from most to least indulgent (reproduced from Jandt, 2016: 175)

High-Indulgence Countries High-Restraint Countries
1  Venezuela  11  Australia 74  Morocco 83  Iraq
2  Mexico 12  Cyprus 75  China 85  Estonia
3  Puerto Rico 12  Denmark 76  Azerbaijan 85  Bulgaria
4  El Salvador 14  Great Britain 77  Russia 85  Lithuania
5  Nigeria 15  Canada 77  Montenegro 88  Belarus
6  Colombia 15  Netherlands 77  Romania 88  Albania
7  Trinidad 15  USA 77  Bangladesh 90  Ukraine
8  Sweden 18  Iceland 81  Moldova  91  Latvia
9  New Zealand 19  Switzerland 82  Burkina Faso 92  Egypt
10  Ghana 19  Malta 83  Hong Kong 93  Pakistan

Critique of Hofstede’s theory

Among the various attempts by social scientists to study human values from a cultural perspective, Hofstede’s is certainly popular. In fact, it would be a rare culture text that did not pay special attention to Hofstede’s theory. The current text is a case in point. However, Hofstede’s theory has also been seriously questioned, and we will summarize some of the most common criticisms below.

First, Hofstede’s methodology has been criticized. To begin with, the way in which the questionnaire was developed has been described as haphazard (Orr & Hauser, 2008). Indeed, the questionnaire was not even originally developed to explore cultural values but instead to assess job satisfaction within IBM. It is hard to believe that questions framed to explore workplace attitudes are relevant to broader cultural attitudes outside of the work place.

Critics also point out that Hofstede’s conclusions are based on insufficient samples McSweeney, 2002). Although 117,000 questionnaires were administered, only the results from 40 countries were used. Furthermore, only 6 countries had more than 1000 respondents, and in 15 countries, there were fewer than 200 respondents. Surely it is not appropriate for 200 people to speak on behalf of a country of millions.

Critics have also been skeptical about the assumption that IBM employees are representative of national cultures as a whole. And even within IBM, the surveys were administered only to certain categories of workers, i.e., “marketing-plus-sales,” leaving out many other employee categories, including blue-collar workers, full-time students, retired employees, etc. (McSweeney, 2002). Hofstede has suggested that restricting the sample in this way effectively controls for the effects of occupational category and class, insuring that the relevant variable of comparison is nationality. However, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that since the study consisted solely of IBM employees, the results may have more to say about IBM corporate culture than about anything broader. Moreover, we should not forget that when Hofstede’s research was first conducted, IBM employed mostly men, so women’s perspectives are also largely missing  (Orr & Hauser, 2008).

Hofstede’s theory has also been faulted for promoting a largely static view of culture (Hamden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1997). As Orr and Hauser (2008) have suggested, the world has changed in dramatic ways since Hofstede’s research began. The world map has changed, cultures themselves may have changed, and the original data is likely to be out of date. In fact, it is somewhat of a puzzle why Hofstede’s theory continues to enjoy the popularity that it does. Indeed, over the years, attempts by many researchers to replicate Hofstede’s findings have not been very successful (Orr & Hauser, 2008).

Final reflection

In this chapter, we have surveyed two approaches to the study of cultural values: that of Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, that of Hofstede. The study of values will no doubt remain a vibrant subject for cross-cultural researchers.

However, implicit in Hofstede’s work, in particular, is the idea that there exists such a thing as a national culture. In discussing cultural values, we have temporarily gone along with this suggestion. However, in closing, let us raise the question of whether the idea of national culture actually makes any sense. McSweeney (2002: 110), echoing the sentiments of many other scholars insists that, “the prefixing of the name of a country to something to imply national uniformity is grossly over-used.” In his view, Hofstede’s dimensions are little more than statistical myths.

In the chapters to come, we will suggest that culture is a term better applied to small collectivities and explain why the idea that there is any such thing as national culture may be a mere illusion.

Application

For Further Thought and Discussion

  1. Choose a community that you know well and decide where you think most members of the community would place themselves within Table 6.1—the Kluckhohn-Strodtbeck Value Orientations framework. Explain your reasoning. Are your views the same or different from those of your primary community?
  2. Is your primary cultural community a “high-indulgence” or a “high-restraint” community? How does this cultural orientation align with your own personal orientation? Are you a “high-indulgence” or a “high-restraint” person?

References

Hamden-Turner, C. & Trompenaars, F. (1997), “Response to Geert Hofstede,” International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 21(1) 149-159.

Hill, M. D. (2002). Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Values Orientation Theory. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 4(4).  https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1040

Hofstede, G. (1997). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. New York: McGraw Hill.

Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J. & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Jandt, F. E. (2016). An introduction to intercultural communication: Identities in a global community, (8th ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Kluckhohn, F. R. & Strodtbeck, F. L. (1961). Variations in value orientations. Evanston, IL: Row Peterson.

McSweeney, B. (2002).  Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith – a failure of analysis. Human Relations, 55(1), 89–118.

Orr, L. M. & Hauser, W. J. (2008). A re-inquiry of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions: A call for 21st century cross-cultural research. The Marketing Management Journal, 18(2), 1-19.

Rokeach, M. (1979) Understanding human values: Individual and societal. New York: The Free Press.

Schwartz, S. H. (2006). A theory of cultural value orientations: Explication and applications. Comparative Sociology, 5(2-3), 137-182.

The Chinese Culture Connection. (1987). Chinese culture and the search for culture-free dimensions of culture. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 18(2), 143-164.

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Speaking of Culture by Nolan Weil is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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