Geert Hofstede, in his pioneer study looking at differences in culture across modern nations, identified four dimensions of cultural values: individualism-collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity-femininity. Working with researcher Michael Bond, Hofstede later added a fifth dimension with called dynamic Confucianism, or long-term orientation. According to Hofstede’s research, people, in individualistic societies, are expected to care for themselves and their immediate families only; while in collectivist cultures, people view themselves as members of larger groups, including extended family members, and are expected to take responsibility in caring for each other. With regards to power distance, different countries have varying levels of accepting the distribution of unequal power. Uncertainty avoidance takes into consideration that the “extent to which a society feels threatened by uncertain and ambiguous situations.” Then, masculinity-femininity examines the dominant values of a culture and determines where these values land on a spectrum in which “masculine” is associated with assertiveness, the acquisition of money and things, as well as not caring for others. Finally, long-term orientation looks at the extent to which a society considers respect for tradition and fulfilling social obligations; some future-oriented values are persistence and thrift.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions have formed a fundamental framework for viewing others. International business people, psychologists, communications researchers, and diplomats all benefit from Hofstede’s work, as well as everyone else. Utilizing these interpretative frameworks leads to a greater understanding of ourselves and others.
To see differences across cultures more clearly, we compiled a list of illustrations of Hofstede’s concepts in action.
- People in collectivistic societies, such as most of Latin American, African, and Asian countries, and the Middle East, emphasize the obligations they have toward their ingroup members, and are willing to sacrifice their individual needs and desires for the benefits of the group. Collectivists emphasize fitting in; they value a sense of belonging, harmony, and conformity, and are more likely to exercise self-control over their words and actions because they consider it immature or imprudent to freely express one’s thoughts, opinions, or emotions without taking into account their impact on others. They care about their relationships with ingroups, often by treating them differently than strangers or outgroup members, which is also known as particularism.
- In high power distance societies, such as many Latin American countries, most of African and Asian counties, and most counties in the Mediterranean area, people generally accept power as an integral part of the society. Hierarchy and power inequality are considered appropriate and beneficial. The superiors are expected to take care of the subordinates, and in exchange for that, the subordinates owe obedience, loyalty, and deference to them, much like the culture in the military. It is quite common in these cultures that the seniors or the superiors take precedence in seating, eating, walking, and speaking, whereas the juniors or the subordinates must wait and follow them to show proper respect. The juniors and subordinates refrain from freely expressing their thoughts, opinions, and emotions, particularly negative ones, such as disagreements, doubts, anger, and so on. Most high power distance societies are also collectivistic societies, aside from a few exceptions such as France.
- In low power distance countries such as Israel, Denmark, and Ireland, people value equality and seek to minimize or eliminate various kinds of social and class inequalities. They value democracy, and juniors and subordinates are free to question or challenge authority. Most low power distance cultures are also individualistic societies.
- People from high uncertainty avoidance cultures, such as many Latin American cultures, Mediterranean cultures, and some European (e.g., Germany, Poland) and Asian cultures (e.g., Japan, Pakistan) tend to have greater need for formal rules, standards, and structures. Deviation from these rules and standards is considered disruptive and undesirable. They also tend to avoid conflict, seek consensus, and take fewer risks.
- In low uncertainty avoidance cultures, such as China, Jamaica, and the United Kingdom, people are more comfortable with unstructured situations. Uncertainty and ambiguity are considered natural and necessary. They value creativity and individual choice, and are free to take risks.
- In masculine cultures, such as Mexico, Italy, Japan, and Australia, tough values – such as achievements, ambition, power, and assertiveness – are preferred over tender values – such as quality of life and compassion for the weak. Additionally, gender roles are generally distinct and complementary, which means that men and women place separate roles in the society and are expected to differ in embracing these values. For instance, men are expected to be assertive, tough, and focus on material success, whereas women are expected to be modest and tender, and focus on improving the quality of life for the family.
- In feminine cultures, such as most of Scandinavian cultures, genders roles are fluid and flexible: Men and women do not necessarily have separate roles, and they can switch their jobs while taking care of the family. Not only do feminine societies care more about quality of life, service, and nurturance, but such tender values are embraced by both men and women in the society.
- Based on the teachings of Confucius, long-term orientation deals with a society’s search for virtues. Societies with a long-term orientation, such as most East Asian societies, embrace future-oriented virtues such as thrift, persistence, and perseverance, ordering relationships by status, and cultivating a sense of shame for falling short of collective expectations.
- Societies with a short-term orientation foster more present- or past-oriented virtues such as personal steadiness and stability, respect for tradition, and reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts. Countries with a short-term orientation include Norway, the United Kingdom, and Kenya.
Featured image credit: “Mexico, Puebla, Cuetzalan” by CrismarPerez. Public Domain via Pixabay.